CREAM OF BEET SOUP WITH CREAM CLOUDS

1-1/2 lbs raw beets, scrubbed clean
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

For the broth:

1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 leek, white and part of green only, trimmed and cut into thin rounds
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into very thin rounds
1 small bunch fresh thyme
1 fresh bay leaf from the laurel nobilis, or 1 dried imported bay leaf
One 2-inch chunk of ginger, cut in thin slices
2 quarts filtered water
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt

For the garnish:

1/2 cup crème fraîche or heavy, non ultra-pasteurized cream
3/4 tsp freshly ground white pepper
1 small shallot, finely minced
18 small springs of mâche (lamb’s lettuce) or other seasonal green or herb

1. Preheat oven to 425º F.

2. Place beets in baking dish and season with salt and white pepper. Pour about ½ inch water in dish, cover, and bake until beets are soft through, 1 to 1-1/2 hours, depending on size. Test by inserting a sharp knife blade into center; you should feel no resistance. Remove from oven. When cool enough to handle, trim and peel them.

3. Make broth: Place all ingredients in large saucepan and cover with the water. Add coarse sea salt, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and cook, covered, until vegetables are soft and have lost their flavor, about 1 hour. Remove from heat and strain, discarding solids. Reserve broth.

4. Make garnish: Whisk 1/4 cup of crème fraîche until it is very firm and will hold a stiff peak. Whisk in white pepper and reserve.

5. Cut 3 oz of the cooked beets into tiny dice and reserve. Coarsely chop remaining beets. Bring 3 cups of the broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add coarsely chopped beets, stir, season with salt and pepper, cover and cook for 20 minutes, until beets are very soft. Transfer beets and cooking liquid to bowl of food processor or use a hand blender to purée, then return to saucepan. Add remaining crème fraîche and heat just until hot. Taste for seasoning.

6. Evenly divide soup among 6 warmed bowls. Working quickly, make quenelles (small oval shapes) of the peppered crème fraîche using teaspoons, and place one in the center of each bowl of soup. Alternatively, garnish each bowl with a small dollop of seasoned crème fraîche. Sprinkle with diced beet and minced shallot, garnish with mâche, and serve.

Serves 6

Originally published in the February 2010 issue of France Today.

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