It’s time to harvest the celery roots that my neighbor Beppi grows in his garden. He makes a wonderful minestra di sedono every year with these roots. It’s the simplest, most delicate soup, made with only celery root, onion, butter and water–that’s it. When the soup is fifteen minutes shy of done, he adds rice and continues cooking until the rice is still slightly al dente.
This year, Beppi offered to come over and give me a lesson in making the soup and I eagerly accepted. He showed up at my door with the most beautiful roots, just pulled from the ground.
He peeled them with a paring knife, removing all of the gnarley exterior and exposing the white interiors. The stalks get discarded (too strong to eat–much stronger than conventional celery). The roots then get diced into 1/2″ cubes and sauteed, along with some onions, in lots of butter. The whole mixture is cooked until it begins to caramelize. At that time, plain simmering water is added (along with salt and pepper), and the soup perks away for about 45 minutes, until the celery roots are tender and the soup has taken on the faintly sweet, earthy flavor of celery root. Then the rice is added and the pot is covered for fifteen minutes, at which time it’s ready to serve.
A word about the rice . . . I’m accustomed to using arborio rice for just about everything rice-related (unless I’m making brown rice, which I love, from time to time). Arborio rice is great to make and serve immediately, but if left in a soup for any extended length of time, it practically dissolves. I never put it in soup that won’t be eaten in one sitting. When I asked Beppi what ingredients I needed to buy for the soup, he said only butter, onions and rice. I asked if arborio rice was OK, since I had it in the house.
“No”–he replied, emphatically–“Not for this soup. . . Come to my kitchen, I show you the kind of rice you need to buy.”
In his very conspiratorial way, he presented me with the orange Uncle Ben’s box from his cupboard. “I let you in on a little trade secret. . . When I had the restaurant, we used to use Uncle Ben’s for everything–except, of course, risotto. The risotto it must be served right away, but all other rice dishes–always Uncle Ben’s. . . it doesn’t fall apart.”
Uncle Ben’s it was.
Tonight, I used Beppi’s soup as a base for our one-pot meal. The celery root and rice soup by itself, would be a great first course, but tonight I wanted the soup to be our dinner. I happened to have the perfect additions in my fridge to fortify this soup–turkey and kale. The turkey was from my brined turkey breast the other evening–it was salty and flavorful–almost like a piece of cured sausage. The kale, I had cooked and frozen a few weeks ago, since I always cook large amounts of it this time of year, knowing that it freezes impeccably. Both together, these ingredients complemented Beppi’s celery roots and rice beautifully.
Beppi’s Celery Root and Rice Soup
serves 6 as a first course
4 – 5 celery roots
2 medium onions
1 stick (8 tbls) butter
1 1/2 c Uncle Ben’s Original rice
2 quarts water
salt and pepper to taste
grated parmigiano to sprinkle on at the table
1 1/2 c each of diced turkey meat and cooked, drained kale (optional)
Peel celery roots with paring knife until only the white interior is exposed.
In an 8-quart dutch oven on medium heat, saute celery root and onion (with a sprinkle of salt and pepper) until they begin to turn golden (about 10 minutes on moderate heat).
If using turkey and kale, add both and return to simmer.
Serve with plenty of grated parmigiano and black pepper at the table.