Robust soup deliciously removes chill of winter

Entertaining: Sweet carrots and nutty sesame seeds play off each other in an orange-hued melange.

Sunday Gourmet

November 14, 1999|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

More often than not when entertaining in the fall, I'll include a warm, robust soup as part of my menu. My penchant for potages is not serendipitous but rather deliberate. I love to serve soup for several reasons.

Most important is the fact that soups generally improve in flavor when made in advance. I dislike hectic, last-minute cooking when friends come to dinner, and soups, which have been cooked ahead, need only a quick reheating at serving time. Then, of course, there's the versatility of soups; they can begin or anchor a meal. Best of all, hearty homemade potages will feed a crowd; doubling or tripling a soup recipe is quite easy.

This year I've devised a Sesame-Scented Carrot Soup With Toasted Croutons to add to my autumn repertoire and have served this creation several times recently to family and friends. This uncomplicated dish is made by sauteing leeks, celery and carrots together and then simmering the vegetables in chicken stock. After the mixture is pureed, it is enriched with half and half and a splash of toasted sesame oil.

What really makes this soup, however, is the garnish. Each portion is mounded with toasted French bread cubes, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and chopped parsley, and then drizzled with sesame oil. The sweetness of the carrots is complemented admirably by the nutty sesame flavor, and, visually, the vibrant orange-hued soup topped with golden brown bits of bread, dark sesame seeds and bright green parsley accents is very appealing.

I served this carrot soup as an entree along with a salad of mixed greens and sliced apples, dressed in a honey vinaigrette, for supper one evening. On another occasion, it was the main course for a luncheon. It would be equally good as an opener to a dinner and could be followed by pork, chicken or lamb.

Naturally, this dish tastes better when made a day ahead, and not surprisingly, the recipe can be increased to serve more if necessary.

Sesame-Scented Carrot Soup with Toasted Croutons

Serves 6

4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 1/2 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds) peeled, diced carrots

1 cup chopped leeks

1/2 cup chopped celery

6 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon salt, plus more if needed

1/2 cup half and half

1/2 cup sour cream

3 teaspoons Oriental sesame oil (see note)

2 cups bread cubes ( 3/4 -inch dice), cut from day-old bread, preferably French bread with crusts removed

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

2 tablespoons chopped parsley, preferably flat leaf, or chives

Heat 2 1/2 tablespoons butter in large, heavy deep-sided pot over medium heat until melted and hot. Add carrots, leeks and celery and cook, stirring often, 10 minutes to soften vegetables slightly. Add stock and season with salt. Bring mixture to simmer. Reduce heat and cook at simmer until all vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Remove and puree in food processor blender or food mill. Return mixture to pan in which it was cooked. Whisk in half and half, then whisk in sour cream followed by 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil. Taste and season with additional salt if needed. (Soup can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat stirring often.)

For garnish, heat remaining butter in medium, heavy skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add bread cubes and toss and cook until golden brown and crispy, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove bread and set aside. To same skillet, add sesame seeds and saute, stirring, constantly over medium-high heat until seeds are rich golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes or less. Watch carefully. Remove and place in small bowl. (Bread cubes and sesame seeds can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Leave both at room temperature, covering bread cubes loosely with foil and leaving seeds uncovered.)

To serve, ladle about 1 1/3 cups soup into each of 6 shallow soup bowls. Mound toasted bread croutons in center of each. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and parsley, then drizzle some of remaining sesame oil over each portion.

Note: There are 2 types of sesame oil -- one that is light in both color and taste and another that is darker and has a strong nutty taste. The latter is known as Oriental sesame oil and is called for in this recipe.

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