Saturday, June 18, 2016

Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup with Shiitake Mushrooms

We had an abundance of sweet potatoes in the pantry. They are definitely one food item I need to figure out how to utilize efficiently. Too often, I end up tossing a moldy bag into the compost bin. I know I could easily roast them or dice them up and add them to a risotto. Lots of people just bake them the same way as a russet potato. I had, at one time, been working to find a good oven-baked sweet potato fries recipe but I have yet to perfect that recipe. Too often, sweet potato recipes often include ingredients like maple syrup or tiny marshmallows which are two things we don't care for much. Thus began my search for an acceptable way to use up the latest batch of sweet potatoes from our CSA box.

Since we had so many sweet potatoes, I decided to explore a soup figuring that I could put it into smaller containers and stick them in the freezer awaiting a nice, easy weeknight dinner. After searching for a bit, I finally settled on this soup from Vegetarian Times. Their title doesn't contain carrots but we thought the flavor of the carrots was present enough that they deserved being on the bill. Their version was also a bisque that contained heavy cream. I read that heavy cream doesn't freeze well (it's possible but it just takes more work than I wanted to put in). So I did an adaptation of the recipe (leaving out the heavy cream) knowing that the soup was destined for the freezer. I made a note on the containers about possibly adding cream after reheating but when we pulled out the first batch out of the freezer a few weeks later I opted not to add the cream and the soup was quite tasty without it.

Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup with Shiitake Mushrooms

  • Sweet potatoes - 1 lb. peeled and cut into small chunks
  • Carrots - 3 medium sized, peeled and diced
  • Shiitake mushrooms - 5 oz. cleaned and diced
  • Garlic - 2-3 cloves minced
  • Yellow onion - 1 large, peeled and chopped
  • Unsalted butter - 6 tbsp.
  • Tomato puree - 1 cup
  • White wine - 3/4 cup
  • Vegetable stock - 4 cups
  • Scallions - 6 trimmed and finely minced
  • White pepper - 1/4 tsp.
  • Cayenne pepper - 1/4 tsp.
  • Salt and black pepper - to taste
  • Prep the potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic
  • Heat 4 tbsp. butter in a large saucepan over medium heat
  • Add onions and carrots and slowly stir until onions are translucent
  • Add minced garlic and let it cook until it releases its fragrance
  • Add broth, wine, sweet potatoes, seasonings, and tomato puree and slowly bring to a boil
  • Reduce heat, cover, and cook on low for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Let cool slightly and use an immersion blender to puree the soup
At this point, I took it off the heat and let it cool until I could ladle it into freezer containers. Now, come the day you take it out of the freezer and once you have it defrosted and are beginning to reheat it, you could elect to add 1/4 cup of heavy cream to make it into a bisque. But I decided to forego the extra calories. However, the garnish is worth making as it adds a nice earthy flavor contrast to the sweetness of the potato and carrot.

Topping Preparation:
  • Heat 2 tbsp. butter in a skillet over medium heat
  • Add diced Shiitake mushrooms and stir to cook until they begin to soften
  • Add chopped scallions and cook until everything is tender 
  • Remove from heat and spoon onto the center of the soup just before serving.
Serve soup with some crunchy bread and olive oil.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Celery Leaf Pesto

When most of us buy celery at the store, most or all of the tops have already been removed. We have been conditioned to think of the tops of celery as something that gets thrown out or of no use. That is such a waste. There is much to enjoy in those celery greens. I've gotten better by using them as another ingredient in my homemade soup stock when there are some celery greens in the house.

But we recently picked up some celery at our local farmer's market and all of the beautiful, bright green celery leaves were still intact on it occurs in nature. They look like giant flat leaf Italian parsley leaves.

The sight of the gorgeous green leaves begged the question (as it did a few years ago with beet greens), how can celery leaves be put to use beyond a soup stock ingredient?

After some online research I found that there is much to be done with fresh celery greens.

  • First, you can toss the fresh, cleaned celery leaves into a salad. 
  • The greens could also be tossed into a soup or a risotto just before serving.
  • They are an edible garnish similar to the way parsley leaves are used. 
  • They can be one of the greens in your morning smoothie.
  • Use celery leaves as a substitute for parsley in a tabbouleh salad.
  • I read some articles online about how to freeze the leaves until you are ready to make soup stock. 
  • Dry the leaves, crumble them up, and use them as a dried herb.
The last idea also resonated with me as I found a recipe for creating a celery salt that I do want to try at some point. You can find the details here

So after all of this online research, I settled on starting with the celery leaf pesto after reading Chef Cara Mangini's blog post about the celery pesto she keeps on hand in her Ohio restaurant.

I adapted her recipe to fit in with all of the basil pesto I've been making recently.

Celery Leaf Pesto

  • Leaves from one natural stalk of celery
  • Toasted pine nuts - 1/3 cup
  • Garlic - 2-4 cloves
  • Parmesan cheese - 1/2 cup grated
  • High quality olive oil - 3/4 to 1 cup
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Mince garlic into a food processor bowl
  2. Add toasted pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and cleaned celery leaves
  3. Pulse a number of times to chop up and blend ingredients
  4. Turn on food processor and slowly add olive oil
  5. Blend until desired consistency
  6. Salt and pepper to taste
So I made the pesto and then used a tablespoon to pour the pesto into a lightly non-stick sprayed ice cube tray. I placed the pesto-filled ice cube tray into the freezer for a day or two. Then popped out the cubes of pesto and stored them into a freezer bag until ready to use.

How have I used them? Well, I'm just getting started, but I did defrost a cube to add to a pan of scrambled eggs.

I also used some to make a bruschetta. As a side for a light dinner, I toasted a piece of bread and added a thin layer of celery pesto and topped it with diced tomatoes.

I am planning using future cubes to be added to any soup or stock.

I am just glad to use up something that might have formerly gone into the compost bin.