This winter solstice in the Northern hemisphere occurs when the earth’s pole reaches its maximum distance away from the sun. For centuries, this longest night of the year, either December 20 or 21, and the time when daylight is shortest, has been celebrated by many cultures. Historically, these astronomical events were used as critical junctions in survival, bellwethers of when to sow crops, breed livestock, and monitor the winter supply of food.
“The return of light” was often marked by festivals and feasting. Families would gather round blazing fires to enjoy hot drinks and special treats, read poetry and tell stories. Here on Deer Isle, the Mariner’s Soar! After School program celebrated the solstice by making luminaries to light the greenhouse, decorating cookies, and sipping hot Winter Solstice Soup prepared by culinary students.
The inspiration for Winter Solstice Soup, or Carrot Velvet Soup, comes from an abundance of last of the season, freshly harvested carrots and a recipe by Sara Jenkins for Vellutata di Carote. In her book, Olives and Oranges, Jenkins explains that “velvety is the literal translation for vellutata – the Italian term for a smooth vegetable puree…. these slow-cooked purees…. build from a few simple ingredients to a more complex, delicious soup.”
To transform fresh carrots and onions into a velvety tasting, sweet and earthy soup requires just a little time and patience. Coarsely chopped carrots are cooked with butter and olive oil until they start to turn golden, and then they are sautéed with onions, which highlights the sweetness of the blend. A yellow potato is added for extra smoothness, and once tender, the whole mixture is pureed and seasoned.
Sipping a cup of Winter Solstice Soup warms and satisfies the soul. This healthy soup freezes well, makes an elegant luncheon, or a simple easy supper. Something for us all to celebrate, and we wait for the return of light.
Carrot Velvet Soup
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 pounds carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
- Medium-coarse sea salt
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 medium yellow potato, peeled and chopped
- ½ teaspoon curry powder
- 2 tablespoons celery leaves, finely sliced
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Assemble ingredients and tools.
- Scrub or peel the carrots. Coarsely chop the carrots and set aside.
- In a heavy soup pot, heat the olive oil and butter over medium high heat until the butter is melted.
- Add the carrots and a pinch of sea salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots start to turn a deeper orange color, about 10 minutes.
- While the carrots are cooking, peel and chop the onion.
- Thinly slice the celery leaves and set aside.
- Peel the potato and cube. Set aside.
- Add the chopped onion to the pot and another pinch of salt. Reduce the heat medium-low, and cook until the onion starts to soften, about 8 minutes.
- Add the potato and enough cold water to just come below the top of the vegetables. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally and adding water as necessary. Cook the vegetables until tender and just beginning to fall apart, about 50 minutes.
- Puree the mixture with an immersion blender or working in batches, puree in a food processor or blender. Stir in the curry powder. Season to taste with sea salt. If the soup is too thick, thin with some water and adjust the seasonings.
- To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with the celery leaves, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.