This first soup recipe is from a little restaurant called Presto's, where my husband and I used to eat often when we lived in California. The owner, Ron Paine, let me apprentice for a short time in his kitchen on a very casual basis. Though I was usually there during the off hours of the restaurant, it gave me a glimpse of what it's like to cook for a living and the hard work it involves, with most of the time spent on your feet. At Presto's I first learned of Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, and it was there that I baked my first serious loaf of bread and shared it with friends. Ron was also very generous in sharing his recipes with us, and the rutabaga bisque was one of our favorites. Although the restaurant is no longer there and we've since moved away, I owe a debt of thanks to Ron and his generosity. You never know how certain experiences may plant a seed that grows into something else later in your life, and this was certainly one of those. So thank you, Ron, wherever you may be. I hope you're still cooking.
An obvious benefit of my time at Presto's is of course the rutabaga bisque. My husband has adapted the recipe down from its larger bulk version, and I substituted a thick greek yogurt for the heavy cream called for in the original recipe. If you have the stock already made, it's a simple matter of prepping, cooking, puréeing and stirring. In less than two hours you have a luxuriously rich first course that tastes like you might have spent all day making it. It's perfect for a holiday dinner, or anytime you want to feel like you're indulging just a little bit.
(recipe adapted from Presto's restaurant)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups rutabagas, cut into one-inch cubes
2 cups onions, chopped
1 cup carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup bourbon
6 cups chicken stock
16 ounces thick plain Greek yogurt (for a richer, milder version, use heavy whipped cream instead)
In a large stockpot, sauté onions, carrot and celery in the olive oil until slightly carmelized and beginning to brown on the bottom of the pot, about 20 minutes. Add bourbon to deglaze the pot, and stir until you get all the browned bits off the bottom of the pot. Add rutabagas and chicken stock. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, until rutabaga is tender when pierced with a fork. Add salt and pepper to taste, and let cool slightly. Purée in batches in a high-powered blender, then transfer to a large 4 quart bowl. Stir in yogurt or cream, then taste again to correct for salt or pepper if needed. Serve immediately.
Makes about 3-1/2 quarts