I don't much go for the trappings of Valentine's Day, but I do appreciate the excuse to cook something brilliantly, undeniably pink. Most often that means playing with beets, and this year I'm roasting them up to make a velvety, magenta-colored soup.
From the looks of them, you'd never know that humble beets could be so luscious — romantic, even. But sweetened up in the oven and pureed with good vegetable stock, they make a gorgeous, almost creamy (yet vegan) soup. This recipe incorporates two other cool-weather companions, fennel and orange, which brighten the earthy flavor.
If you eat dairy like yogurt, crème fraîche, or sour cream, you are welcome to garnish your beet soup with a dollop, or even go all out and use it to draw white hearts. It's hardly necessary, though, as this soup is full of lively flavor and color on its own. Served as a starter or light meal, it's especially satisfying with a piece of crusty homemade bread.
Roasted Beet Soup with Fennel and Orange
2 pounds beets, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes 1 large (about 1 pound) fennel bulb, cut into wedges (reserve fronds for garnish) 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or 2 teaspoons fresh) Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper 1 large onion, sliced 2 garlic cloves, chopped 4 cups vegetable stock 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (reserve zest of 1 orange for garnish) 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Toss the beets and fennel with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, thyme, a generous pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and roast, stirring occasionally, until the beets are tender, about 45 minutes.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over moderate heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for a minute or two until fragrant. Add the beets, fennel, and vegetable broth, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes.
Working in batches, puree the mixture in a blender. Transfer the puree to a large pot and bring to a simmer. Stir in the orange juice and vinegar. Salt to taste.
To serve, garnish with orange zest and fennel fronds.