Cooking and eating seasonally becomes a much bigger challenge at this time of year when the green markets aren't enticing us with ripe, fragrant fruit and a plethora of colorful fresh vegetables. A trip to the market now is a much less inspiring scene; farmers bundled up standing behind tables with modest displays of squash, potatoes, dried onions and garlic, and maybe a few heads of hearty kale. I find cooking during these cold winter months much more challenging for two reasons: firstly, there is obviously much less selection and, secondly, the ingredients you do have to choose from often require a lot more manipulation. During the summer you can quickly and easily pick up a few heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil and sweet bell peppers and you have yourself a killer summer salad. Winter produce, on the contrary, is not so straightforward. It takes a lot more imagination to take a pound of lumpy potatoes or a cumbersome, thick skinned squash and transform them into a delicious meal.
This recipe takes potent bulbs of produce that are normally used to enhance the flavors of other ingredients and let's them shine on their own. And they do quite a good job starring in their own show, like the understudy that, out of sheer necessity, performed the main role and blew the critics away.
My inspiration for this dish came from Susan Spicer's recipe for Cream of Garlic Soup. The idea is unique and the outcome is a soup that is rich, complex and oh-so satisfying. Don't be afraid that it will be too strong and, well, garlic-y for you. The garlic is roasted until it becomes a beautiful caramel color and takes on a wonderfully sweet, mild flavor.
Now this recipe calls for a lot of garlic; 2 cups (about 5 large bulbs) worth. I've experimented with different ways of roasting the garlic but what I have found works best both ease-wise and time-wise is roasting the bulbs whole and, once they have cooled, squeezing the softened cloves directly into the soup. Its kind of a messy and not so technical approach but it is effective.
Topped with crunchy, herbed croutons and served along with a simply dressed green salad and you have one satisfying meal.
Roasted Garlic Soup
5 large garlic bulbs
2 TBSP butter
2 TBSP olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 large (or 3 medium) thinly sliced onions
1 TBSP minced fresh thyme
6 c. chicken stock
1 bouquet garni (parsley stems, thyme sprigs, bay leave tied together with kitchen twine)
3 c. day old bread, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 c. half-and-half
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut off the top third off of the garlic bulbs and discard. Drizzle the cut side of the bulbs with olive oil, place on a large piece of aluminum foil and pinch shut, forming a pouch. Roast for 90 minutes, or until softened and caramelized. Let cool.
While garlic is cooling, heat 2 TBSP olive oil and butter in a large dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they turn a rich golden brown color (40-60 minutes).
Squeeze the cooled roasted garlic cloves directly into the pot with onions and stir to combine. Add the minced thyme, chicken stock and bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, stir in the bread, and simmer for about 5 minutes or until the bread is soft.
Remove the bouquet garni and puree in a blender, in batches, until smooth. Return soup to pot, stir in half-and-half and season with salt and pepper. If it seems too thick, thin out with a little more chicken stock. Serve topped with garlic croutons.
Herbed Garlic Croutons
1 c. day old bread, diced
2 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp fresh thyme, minced
Heat olive oil and butter in a pan over medium heat. Add garlic and thyme and cook for 30 seconds or until garlic is just starting to become fragrant. Add bread and toss or stir frequently until bread is crispy. Season generously with salt and pepper and transfer immediately to a paper towel.