We are in love with the carrots from Chickadee Creek Farm in Pennington, NJ. I’ve mentioned them in our posts before but think I’m becoming a bit of a junkie. We give them a starring role in many of our recipes and I start getting nervous when our supply runs low. Raw, they are like candy. Cooked, they are sweet and rich and so much more “carroty” than our regular grocery store carrots. I’m not sure how farmer Jess Niederer does it, but these truly are the best carrots ever.
One Thursday in mid March I happily stumbled on the winter Princeton Farmer’s Market that occurs once a month during the colder months at the Princeton Public Library. Of all the wonderful winter produce set up on the Chickadee Creek table — and, with several varieties of greens, heads of garlic, daikon radishes and more there was a surprising amount of it! — I made a beeline for the carrots. The supply in our crisper drawer was nearly depleted and I giddily jumped at the chance to replenish our stock.
Here it is, a few short weeks later, and we’ve nearly run through the two pounds purchased that day. Of the many ways we have used those carrots, one of our favorites has turned out to be a simple carrot-rich vegetable soup.
Timing is everything. With the changing of the seasons has come cold and flu season. Every member of our family has, at some point in the past month, waved the white flag and retreated to the couch or a bedroom to nurse a sore throat and throbbing sinuses. This soup has gotten us through the worst of it and is something our Stout Sprouts will reliably eat when nothing else sounds good.
Normally chicken soup is the go-to for head colds, but the health benefits of this super simple vegetable soup are nothing to — excuse the pun — sneeze at…starting with those carrots. Carrots are high in vitamin A, with just one medium carrot supplying approximately 200% of a person’s daily recommended allowance. They are relatively low in calories and, I’ve learned, were first cultivated as a medicinal crop in the Middle East (probably for their flowers), and not as a food source. Before long, selective breeding reduced some of the less desirable characteristic of this root crop — its bitterness, for instance, and the woody texture of its core — and led to a sweeter vegetable that can be easily eaten out of hand and is now extremely popular throughout the world, both raw and cooked.
Whatever color carrot you choose — the original carrots were nearly all shades except for orange! — this is a soup that plays to their strength while inviting other healthy ingredients to the table. This is very similar to a traditional French Soupe au Pistou but geared more towards early spring since we’re still very early in the growing season and, with the exception of those Chickadee Creek carrots, reliant on canned or frozen produce for the most part.
Our version uses chicken stock but you could easily make a vegetarian version by using vegetable stock. Omit the cheese rind and forgo the addition of pesto — which is there for additional flavor — and this soup is vegan. It’s super-simple and super-fast and has easy steps with which nearly any kid can help. If anyone in the family is down for the count, the rest of the family can pitch in to get this on the table in under an hour. And for any busy parent, sick or not, that alone is medicinal.
Super Simple Vegetable Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
4 carrots (or more, if you like carrots as much as we do), peeled and cut into 1/8th inch rounds
Generous pinch Kosher salt
1 15-oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 14.5-oz can of diced tomatoes with basil and garlic (or simple diced tomatoes, to which you add one finely-diced garlic clove and several leaves of minced fresh basil)
6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock — homemade if available
A rind of Parmesan cheese (we save the rinds from finished wedges of Parmesan cheese in the freezer and pull one out whenever we make soups like this — it doesn’t need to have much cheese on it to add flavor)
1/4 lb of pasta noodles — we used long fusilli noodles from Cento’s Anna Pasta brand but you could use spaghetti noodles, linguine, orzo, or any other pasta shape you like (generally, this is 1/4 of a 1-lb box)
1 cup of haricot vert or small green beans (fresh or frozen), cut into 2-inch lengths
Kosher salt and freshly-grated pepper to taste
A teaspoon of pesto per serving, added at the table (optional, but if you do go this route, try our spinach-basil pesto or your favorite store-bought brand)
Begin by heating the olive oil in a large dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and a generous pinch of Kosher salt and sauté until softened — 5 to 8 minutes. Add the drained chickpeas, the can of diced tomatoes with its juice, the stock and the rind of Parmesan cheese. Bring to a simmer and cook for approximately 15 minutes to blend flavors.
If using long fusilli, spaghetti, or linguine noodles, break the pasta into two- to three-inch lengths and allow it to cook, according to directions on the pasta box, until softened. If using smaller pasta shapes like orzo or elbow noodles, just add them and cook until softened.
When there are approximately 5 minutes left before the pasta is done, add the green beans and stir well. They will be crisp-tender and bright green if you don’t cook them too long, and this 5-minute steam is about right. Don’t worry, though, if you have to keep the soup warm for any length of time. The beans will be softer and not as vibrant, they will be just as tasty.
Taste and correct for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed. Remove the cheese rind and discard, and ladle soup into warmed soup bowls. Serve with a dollop of pesto (optional, but recommended!).
Serves: 6 – 8
Kid rating: five stars. Daughter 1 loved this soup. She finished two bowls for dinner and requested it for lunch two more days during the week. A second batch got her through a bad cold. This was a restorative soup for Daughter 2 as well, who woke up stuffy from a nap and wasn’t in the mood for dinner…but by the time she reached the bottom of her bowl was telling me how delicious the chickpeas were. If you do have leftovers be aware that the noodles will continue to absorb the stock and the soup will become less “soupy.” Add a little more stock or some water to loosen it up before re-heating and the soup will be nearly as good.
Parent rating: four stars. Second only to chicken soup as the soup I want to have when I’m nursing a cold. I love how easy this soup is to make and that we almost always have the ingredients on hand, and that the entire family endorses this dish. I add a healthy dollop of pesto to my bowl and love it that way (extra garlic is certainly medicinal, right?), though neither of the girls nor my husband have really warmed to that. This is, as we’ve said, especially good with fresh carrots, though I can’t wait until a little later in the season when I can use our own string beans and garden tomatoes to make a batch.