[Beet Soup with Anchovy-Walnut Paste]
I went to the market on Saturday morning, walking at a brisk pace up the boulevard in the shy sunlight, stopping by the bank to deposit a check (aren’t you glad to know), and reaching the stands about a minute after the greasy smells of potato pancakes had reached me — how anyone can be tempted by these is beyond me, but the guy who sells them seems to do quite well, so perhaps I’m just not his target audience.
Considering the mild and sunny weather we have been blessed with recently (with the occasional shower, admittedly), I was fully expecting the market to have shed its woolen cardigan for a nice short-sleeved shirt, perhaps linen or cotton or a blend of the two, but I’m here to tell you that we ain’t quite there yet. The territory was still mostly occupied by root vegetables and citruses.
Strawberries? Asparagus? Both spring scouts were present, but the asparagus was outrageously priced, and the strawberries I tried were but a sketch of their future self. It is always a delicate situation when you’re kindly offered a taste, and all your palate has to bring to the conversation is “bof” (a French interjection that expresses indifference, lack of enthusiasm, or lack of conviction), so you smile an apologetic smile and say, “Um, maybe next week?”
Never one to lament for too long over a half-empty glass — or at least I try — I got myself some blood oranges and pears, a bunch of watercress, a couple of kohlrabis, and a lush bouquet of beets, complete with stalks and leaves. After a brief stop at the cheese stall (fresh butter, half a Reblochon, and an outstanding Salers), I walked back home, already planning the soup I would cook for lunch.
And this is what I made, a simple tip-to-toe beet soup, with a quickly whipped-up condiment of walnuts and anchovies — both being among beets’ best friends — to be stirred into our bowls at the time of serving, much like the pistou in the Provencal soupe au pistou. The soup took on a very attractive shade of deep purple — so did my fingers and the kitchen cabinets beneath which I pureed the soup — and offered a pleasant mix of lightly sweet and earthy flavors, spiked up by the pungency of the walnut-anchovy paste.
Soupe de Betterave, Pâte d’Anchois aux Noix
For the soup:
- 3 medium beets, whole (bulbs and stalks and leaves), about 1.2 kg (2 1/2 pounds)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, peeled and sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper
For the anchovy walnut paste:
- 50g (1/2 cup) shelled and peeled walnut halves
- 8 filets of anchovies, rinsed and drained
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Cut the stalks of the beets from the bulbs. Rinse the stalks and leaves, cut them in smaller segments, and set aside. Scrub the bulbs, peel them, and cut them in thickish slices.
Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a 6-quart heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add in the onions, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly to avoid coloring. Add in the sliced bulbs and salt, and cook for five more minutes, stirring regularly. Pour in 4 cups water or stock, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 45 minutes, stirring every once in a while, until the beets are tender. Half an hour into the cooking, add in the reserved stalks and leaves.
While the soup simmers away quietly, prepare the anchovy walnut paste. In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine the walnuts, anchovies, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Mix until thoroughly combined — it will form a thick paste. Mix in a little more olive oil (by the teaspoon) if it seems too thick, and transfer into a small bowl.
Purée the soup with an immersion blender. Season with freshly ground pepper, taste, and adjust the seasoning — it should be slightly undersalted, as the anchovy-walnut paste will add some salt. Ladle the soup into bowls, and serve with the anchovy and walnut paste on the side, to be stirred by the spoonful into the soup.