Split Pea and Celeriac Soup – Perfect.

If you want to know my perfect Saturday in NYC, here it is…

Wake up latish – 8 am. Shower and have a cup of coffee while you plan tonight’s dinner. Make a shopping list, set up a loaf of bread to rise, then hit the streets with Mr TBTAM on the bikes. Ride across town, through Central Park, chatting a bit on the phone with your little brother who often calls you on Saturday mornings  (love my wireless airpods),

across the West Side to Riverside Park

and the West Side Greenway.

If it’s a cold day in November, dress warmly – scarf, gloves – and don’t let the wind bother you, especially if the sun is out and the wind is keeping the crowds off the Greenway.

It’s just you and the joggers and bikers. And the folks debarking from their cruise ships.

No worries, you’ve mastered the bob and weave of biking the Greenway and the streets of NYC.

Turn off the Greenway at 16th St and head under the High Line

to the Grey Dog for breakfast.

(An alternative here, if it’s warm enough, would be to park the bikes, pick up coffee to go from Blue Bottle and head up to the High Line to see if you can snag a recliner facing the Hudson. But today you need warmth, so it’s the Grey Dog.)

But wait – Look! There’s a new and marvelous antique garage across the street! What a find!

So much to see!

Wonder where you’d put those bendy manikins (maybe the living room sofa?)

or if the cast iron painted cow is too heavy for the ride home (yes it is).

Text a few pics to your friend Amy, who makes jewelry from found objects, to see if she wants you to buy anything for her. No – unfortunately the bakelite button molds have no holes for stringing. But you promise to see one another soon.

Now you head into the Grey Dog. Your latish start and antiquing detour means there’s a bit of a line. But it moves fast, and the gay couple sitting nearby has a one month old baby, so there’s plenty to ooh and aah about, and before you know it, you’re ensconced at a table with your Cappuccino and avocado, poached egg and salmon salad and the Saturday crossword, which promises to be a bear.

By the time you leave, crossword only halfway done (it is indeed a bear), the line is wrapped all the way to the door. Yep, you gotta go early to the Grey Dog…

Back on the bike, fighting to keep your eyes on the road and not on the gorgeous autumn sky,

your next stop is the Union Square Farmer’s Market. At the market, you pass Linda Rodin, but decide not to stop and pay homage. You are, after all, both New Yorkers. Plus, there was that time you ran into Bill Cunningham at the Union Square Market, and he seemed none too pleased to talk…

In addition to celebrity icons, there are cranberries and apples, of course.

And the root vegetables are everywhere.

But mostly you are here to find celeriac, which is technically not a root vegetable though it sure looks like one, for tonight’s soup dinner.

There’s plenty of celeriac to be found, and you exchange soup recipes with the young man selling you yours. His co-worker tells you she eats raw celeriac like an apple, and that you can cook it like a potato if you want to. The most fun part of the farm market is talking with the growers and their staff, and today everyone’s in a talkative mood.

You also grab a honey nut squash to roast for tonight’s salad, along with some greens.

Then it’s back on the bike, to head east to the protected bike lane on First Avenue, then north towards home, with a quick detour to the Fairway on 32nd and 2nd for a slab of ham and some dried peas. It’s always a thrill to drive past the UN building (which looks great after its multiyear renovations),

and you’re pleased to realize that all those long bike rides this past summer have left you with the leg muscles to tackle the hills up to 42nd and 57th streets with nary a break.

Home at last, where the sun is streaming under the doorjamb and hits you square in the eye as you enter your apartment. The bread you put up to rise before you left is ready to be shaped, and it’s a perfect afternoon to spend in the kitchen, making the perfect pea soup. If you’re lucky and they’re home, you’ll even talk to your girls while the soup cooks.

This evening, your friends will be coming over for dinner. You’ll serve said soup with the bread and a salad and then you will all walk to the neighborhood cinema for a movie (Can You Ever Forgive Me? – fabulous!). You’re home well before midnight, early enough to clean up the kitchen together before heading to bed for a well-deserved night’s sleep. Tomorrow is another big day – Chorus sectional in the morning, then brunch and theater with your book club (Gloria: A Life – I highly recommend it, and I’d see Christine Lahti in anything.)

So there you have it. A perfect Saturday. It doesn’t happen often, but I’m gonna’ do my best to be sure it happens again. And for sure I’m making this soup again.

Hope your Saturday was as fun as mine. What’s your idea of a perfect day?

Split Pea & Celeriac Soup

This is not that thick, meconium like paste most of us think of as pea soup. It’s what pea soup should be –  light, flavorful and satisfying. You don’t puree all the soup, so you get to taste all the individual ingredients, and the peas remind you from whence this soup comes. The celeriac acts like lemon does in a dish – brightens and enhances it. I’ll never make that goopy, heavy stuff again.

The recipe is modified from the Greens Restaurant Cookbook. I adjusted the oil and spices, replaced their croutons with ham and skipped the parmesan topping since I was serving it in the salad. If you’d rather forgo the ham, make the optional croutons at the end of this recipe and pass the Parmesan.

We served this with a salad of arugula, roasted honey nut squash, shaved parmesan, salted red onions and a lemon vinaigrette. And homemade bread.

Serves four to six.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried green split peas
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut into small dice
  • 3 inner stalks celery, cut into small dice
  • 1 celeriac, trimmed and cut into small cubes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Fresh pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used a Savignon blanc)
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 5 ounces cooked ham, cut into small cubes (I used smoked Italian ham)
  • (Optional croutons) – 2-3 slices white bread, cubed. 4 more tbsp olive oil and a rosemary branch.
  • (Optional garnish) Grated parmesan and chopped parsley or chervil

Directions

Sift through the peas and pick out any stones or debris. Rinse well, place in a bowl and cover generously with boiling water. Soak for an hour.  (If you have time to soak the peas overnight, no need to boil the water and more power to you. I’ve never had enough foresight to overnight soak anything).

Gradually warm 3 tbsp olive oil in a soup pot with bay leaf and rosemary for about 3 minutes to flavor the oil. Add the garlic and cook over low heat another minute without letting it brown. Add the vegetables, salt and pepper and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, over medium heat.

Add the wine, raise the heat and reduce.

Drain the peas and add them to the pot, tossing for a few seconds before adding the stock and the water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until the peas are soft, about 1 1/2 hours.

Blend a few cups of the soup in a blender (or, as I did, transfer it to another smaller pot and puree using an immersion blender). Add the puree back to the soup pot, stir and season again if needed with salt and pepper.

Keep the soup warm while you saute the ham in its own fat in a small frying pan.Serve the soup, passing the sauteed ham around to be added to the bowls of the carnivores at the table.

Croutons and Parmesan for topping (optional for vegetarian version)

Warm 5 tbsp olive oil in a small skillet with a rosemary branch. When the oil is hot and fragrant, remove the rosemary and toss in crouton squares cut from 2-3 slices of white bread. Fry till crisp and golden. Remove to a paper towel to cool.

Save the oil to serve with the soup. Top with croutons and freshly grated parmesan. A little chopped parsely or chervil wouldn’t hurt either.

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