Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pumpkin-Celeriac Soup with "Not Your Momma's" Grilled Cheese Sandwich

It's a rainy, slightly balmy (around 57 degrees Fahrenheit at midnight), fall day in New York. The best part about fall is not only the turning color of the leaves, but of them floating from the trees when the wind blows. It's peaceful.  It really does seem like time stands still at times like these. On days like this, I love to embrace fall by using local and fresh ingredients that I luckily can find around me.

I have also decided this season to cook with new produce that I have never used in the past and experiment a little and step out of my comfort zone.  I found this weirdly beautiful celeriac at the farmer's market and decided to use it to make one of my favorite things: soup.  

For those of you as clueless as I was about celeriac, it is also commonly known as celery root.  A root vegetable grown from celery, it has an earthy, anise and floral scent around the leaves. But it smells similar to a turnip (another root vegetable) when you cut it open.  Celeriac is as diverse to use as a potato:  roasted plain, gratin, soups, salads, etc. I know that I intend to try it again in another form because my pumpkin-celeriac soup was fall in a bowl!

You'll notice there is no heavy cream or milk in this soup.  When I make soups, I usually tend to leave it out.  I don't think it is necessary as I replace it with chicken stock and a little sour cream or Greek yogurt to give it a little creaminess and tang.  It's a matter of taste and if you'd prefer to use it, go right head! I finish it at the end with a bit of lime juice to bring out all the flavors and bring a light, freshness to the creamy soup.

Serves 3-4

1 medium size celeriac (approximately 1/2 lb), ends cut off and skin peeled off
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/2-inch ginger, skin removed and minced
1/2 tsp fennel seed
2 tsp Chinese Five Spice
1 tsp ground clove
10 oz organic canned pumpkin
2 cup low-sodium chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp sour cream or Greek yogurt
1/2 lime, juiced
Chives, snipped (optional)

1.  Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  While it warms up, prepare the celeriac and cut into large 1 inch cubes. Toss quickly in a bit of olive oil, season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and put into the oven to roast for approximately 20-25 minutes until tender. Let cool to room temperature.

2.  Add oil to a pot and heat over medium high heat. Add next five ingredients and toast for a few minutes until you can smell the spices, garlic and ginger. Then, add pumpkin and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil and then remove from heat.

3.  Add celeriac to the soup and use a hand-held immersion blender to purée the celeriac with the pumpkin mixture.  Mix until the celeriac is fully incorporated. I like my soups a little chunkier for a more earthy feel.  But you can purée it as smooth as you like.

4.  Put the soup back on the stove over medium heat and bring to a boil again.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and then simmer on low for an additional 5-10 minutes for the flavors to really come together.

5.  Remove from heat and add sour cream/yogurt and lime juice. Gently incorporate it into the soup.  Serve in a bowl topped with a bit more sour cream/yogurt and snipped chives.

There is nothing more perfect to serve alongside soup than a grilled cheese sandwich.  Now, originally this post was only supposed to be about only the pumpkin-celeriac soup.  But the grilled cheese was so out of this world that I had to blog about it here too.  I mean, it was blow your mind good.  Growing up, grilled cheese to me (made lovingly by my mom even though she hates cheese herself) and probably most of America was Wonder Bread, a slice or two of Kraft's cheese, and margarine.  It was gooey, messy and had that bizarre fake orangey color that to a kid means yumminess. 

As many good memories as I have about those grilled cheese sandwiches, this was soooo much BETTER.  Butter, good cheese and a little bit of the Ploughman's Pickle from Marks & Spencers I picked up when I was in London last, oh man. If you don't have either of the cheeses, replace it with whatever you might have in the fridge already that melts well.  Obviously, the Ploughman's pickle will be a bit difficult to find here in the US.  No problem! Replace it with a dab of your favorite chutney or pickled vegetable instead.  It is that sweet, sour tang that really brings the entire sandwich together and completes the experience alongside the soup for the best fall dinner or a hearty lunch. 
Check out the strands of melted cheese as I bit into it! Don't you want a taste?  :)

Makes 1 Sandwich


1/2 tbsp butter

3 slices good white bread
3/4 cup English cheddar, grated
3/4 cup Emmmanthaler cheese, grated
4 tbsp jarred Ploughman's pickle or any jarred chutney or pickled vegetable

1.  In a non-stick skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat.

2.  While butter is melting, put the sandwich together.  Top one slice with a mixture of the cheeses and half the chutney. Add the second slice of bread on top and repeat. Finish with the last slice of bread.  Place in the pool of sizzling melted butter on the stove. Grill for 3 minutes until golden brown, pressing down lightly with your spatula to allow it to melt together.  When it starts to stick together, flip and repeat for an additional 3 minutes until cheese is fully melted.

3.  Cut in half and serve alongside soup.  Bon appetit!

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