Recipe: Chilled Carrot Soup with Thyme Blossoms and Crème Fraîche
Carrots have an elusive flavor. At times they can taste almost like nothing, at others, soapy. I don’t completely understand carrots. To really taste them, I have to focus on them, sometimes even eliminating all distractions such as music. Then when I do taste them, I find their flavor delicate and unusual.
It seems to me most of their essence lies in their skin, or right beneath it. When I peel them, their true aroma comes rushing forth, but then it’s quickly lost to the air. Since discovering this fact, I’ve almost never peeled carrots. And that’s not only for taste; many of their nutrients are contained in their skins. A good scrub is all they usually get, except when I’m making a puréed soup, like this one. The skin muddies their color. You have to choose between flavor and brilliant color, and for me the color of a carrot soup has a big psychological effect on how I perceive the taste (red carrots don’t taste as carroty to me, but I’ll bet they are, chemically speaking; they just like to trick me). Anyway, losing the skin is not huge problem for me. Often I’ll add it to whatever broth I’m using for the soup, so I can capture a little more flavor. I’ve also learned how to balance acid and sweet in an attempt to stir up a carrot’s soul (in this recipe I add a piece of apple, and, at the end, a swirl of crème fraîche).
I’ve experimented with many carrot and herb combinations. I really like flat-leaf parsley with carrots. Basil is nice, too. This summer I’m finding thyme to be my preferred herb, especially now that my plants are in blossom. The purple blooms taste like the leaves but gentler, with a floral note. I add thyme leaves when the soup is still hot, and let their oil open up in the cooking. Then I garnish the chilled soup with the pretty blossoms.
Chilled Carrot Soup with Thyme Blossoms and Crème Fraîche
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large summer onion, cut into medium dice
1 large Yukon gold potato, peeled and roughly chopped
10 farmer’s market carrots, peeled and chopped into thin rounds (saving the peels and trimmings)
About ¼ semisweet apple, peeled and cut into chunks
A few big scrapings of nutmeg
2 cups vegetable broth or very light chicken broth (simmered for about 20 minutes with the carrot peels and trimmings, if you’re so inclined)
6 large thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped, plus thyme blossoms for garnish
1 tablespoon crème fraîche
A few drops of champagne vinegar
Set a big soup pot over medium heat. Add a good drizzle of olive oil and the butter. Add the onion, potato, the carrots, and the apple chunks, and sauté to coat everything well with the oils. Season with salt and nutmeg, and continue sautéing for a few more minutes, to bring out the flavors.
Add the broth and enough water to just cover the vegetables. Bring everything to a boil, turn the heat down a touch, and cook, uncovered, at a lively bubble, until the vegetables are tender, about 12 minutes or so.
Purée the soup in a food processor, and transfer it to a big bowl. Add more water if it’s too thick (I like the consistency of a very thick cream). Season with black pepper, the thyme sprigs, and a drizzle of fresh olive oil. Swirl in the crème fraîche. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, and a few drop of vinegar to brighten the flavor.
Chill for several hours. When serving, garnish each bowl with thyme blossoms.