I love the Bravo TV competition show Top Chef. The chefs I root for never win, but that’s okay. I kind of know they will not win early in the season. This season of Top Chef, I was rooting for Carla Pellegrino who sadly has been eliminated all too soon. I loved her joie d’vivre and lively exuberance. She has more energy and enthusiasm in her little finger than the next 10 people put together. As so often happens on Top Chef, one week she was on top, winning with a carrot soup recipe, and the next she was gone.
I was curious about Carla’s carrot soup because the judges raved about it and awarded it first place. I could not quite imagine how it could be that good. First off, I will just put it out there that I am not that fond of cooked carrots. I think they are too sweet and I generally prefer them raw. I wondered how it was possible her soup was not too sweet and decided I had to try my hand at it just in case the judges were smoking something. I found the recipe online and of course, it makes enough for an army. I also didn’t have all the ingredients and was not going to run to the store to get them, so a little experimenting was needed.
So, the first thing to do was start the soup. Carrots are tough, fibrous and dense vegetables that need lots of cooking time, so the soup will has be well on its way before I start the meatballs. I turned the heat on my sauce pan to med-low (a 3 on my 1 to 10 dial) and added 1 tbsp of butter. While it melted, I chopped up on yellow onion and tossed it in with the butter. With heat that low, the onions will not brown. Instead they will almost melt away as you sweat them on this low heat. Add some salt and pepper, but use a light hand. Carla also used leeks which add a bit of a mellower flavor and a lot more depth, but I didn’t have any. This will work anyway.
While the onions sweated, I made up a little bouquet garni (a cloth pouch of herbs used so you don’t have to strain them out to keep their greeny goodness from messing with your orange carroty brightness). In the cloth pouch, I put in 1 bay leaf, 1 twig of fresh thyme, 2 tsp of dried parsley and 2 tsp of dried oregano. I also added 2 peppercorns. Now Carla did not add oregano, but I was suspicious of the sweetness of the carrots and wanted the oregano to cut that sweetness a little more than I thought her herb choices would. I tossed the bouquet garni in, making sure it was in the liquid and let it continue to sweat away for about 20 minutes in all.
Meanwhile, I chopped up my carrots into fairly uniform pieces so they cooked evenly and let them sweat for 20 minutes with the onions. Although they remained quite firm and nowhere near done, I could see a bit of the fluid sweating out, mixing with the onions and butter. I also started drooling from the heavenly aroma from the onions and garni. Once the carrots began to soften, I added enough water to cover the carrots by about an inch. I turned the heat up to a simmer (5) and once it was simmering, I put on the lid and let it simmer away, just checking occasionally to see how done the carrots were getting. It will take 30 minutes to cook the carrots to tenderness.
I turned my oven to 375°F and let it heat up.
I took 12 ounces of ground turkey, 2 cloves of minced garlic (more than Carla used), about 1/c cup of dried parsley, a/4 cup shredded parmesan and mixed in a bowl with one egg. I then began crushing saltine crackers (Carla used bread crumbs, but I didn’t have any and my mom often used saltines in her meatballs.) I kept adding crackers until the meatball held together without being too eggy. I turn a burner on to medium and put about 1 TBSP of butter in my iron skillet. Using an ice cream scoop to make the uniform in size, I scooped the meatballs into the pan and let them brown on one side before turning to brown on the other. Once they browned nicely, I slipped them in the oven to finish cooking. (About 20 minutes.) This made 12 meatballs.
While the meatballs cooked, I took two stems of kale and stripped the leaves off the stem. I sprinkled some olive oil and kosher salt on the kale and, using my hands, lightly worked the oil and salt into the leaves. I set it aside to bake once the meatballs were done. Once the meatballs were done, I turned the heat down to 275 and put the kale in to bake. After 10 minutes I turned the kale over.
Once the kale was baking, the carrot soup was tender. I poured it into my Magic Bullet and pureed it thoroughly, making sure there were no chunks left. You can use an immersion blender, blender of food processor.
Now everything is done, it was time to put it together. I ladled some soup into my bowl, placed 3 meatballs to one side and garnished with the kale chips. Carla made an parsley salad with chopped parsley, olive oil and lemon juice, but I wanted the bitter crunch of roasted kale. The saltines and the roasted kale all add salt to this dish, so when salting on each step of cooking, use a light hand.
So, now it came time to taste the soup. It was magnificent. I am thinking of making it for Christmas dinner. It’s beautiful to look at, kind of foolproof in putting together and the oregano and kale balance with sweetness of the carrots so perfectly. It was so tasty, I called my best friend and told her to come sample my soup soon because it would not last long.
This made 4 servings – which is about as small a batch as you can make using one egg for the meatballs. I can imagine vegetarians might like it without the meatballs and a bit of carrot soup and kale chips is a satisfying mouthful. I would not recommend using olive oil instead of the butter. Part of the richness in flavor comes from that butter. I found the same thing to be true of celeriac soup, with olive oil it is good. With butter, it is delicious.