Warming winter soups

Catherine Walthers' "Soups + Sides" is brimming with winter recipes.

In the cold of fall and winter, I often turn to root vegetables for comfort food. The gnarly celery root or celeriac resembles an ugly gray day tinged by dirty snow. But with the outside removed, cut open and cooked in a soup, the pure white inner celery root provides a smooth, creamy, subtle soup, ideal for its task of warming. Because I didn’t have any homemade chicken stock, I used roasted garlic, leeks and parsley to help flavor the soup, along with a bit of crème fraiche or cream.

Celery Root Soup with Roasted Garlic

Serves 6 to 8

1 head of garlic
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, diced
1 large leek, all parts, washed and sliced
2 medium celery roots, outside pared off, cubed (about 6 cups)
8 cups water
1 medium potato, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons parsley
1 bay leaf
1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt
Crème fraiche or heavy cream, to taste

To roast garlic, preheat oven to 375°. Slice off top of garlic, drizzle about 1 teaspoon olive oil over the open cloves, and put the top back to keep the heat and moisture in. Wrap tightly in tin foil and cook in oven until fragrant and cloves softened to the touch, about 40 minutes.

While garlic is roasting, melt the butter and remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add leeks and continue cooking until they are soft and onions are beginning to color.

Stir in celery root and let cook a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Add water, potato parsley, bay leaf and 1 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Simmer, partially cover and cook until vegetables are done. Remove the bay leaf.

Blend the soup in a blender in batches until very creamy. While one batch is blending, squeeze out the roasted garlic. Add the roasted garlic to one of the batches being blended. If the soup is too thick, add a bit of water to get the best consistency. Adjust salt (this soup usually needs a good amount) and add pepper. When reheating soup, swirl in a little crème fraiche or cream to taste.

Quick French Lentil Soup

Serves 4 to 6

This lentil soup uses the French green lentils, also called lentils de Puy. These are smaller than the brown lentils, cook quicker and hold their shape for a better appearance. You can experiment by adding different fresh herbs, such as thyme or oregano, or other greens instead of parsley, such as spinach.

1 onion, diced small
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 whole leek, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise, rinsed and sliced crosswise
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup red or white wine (optional)
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
6 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 1/4 cup French green lentils (de Puy), picked through and rinsed
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juices
1 teaspoon salt
2 tsp. umeboshi vinegar or fresh lemon juice

1. In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, sauté the onions in the oil over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the leek and garlic and cook another 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often. Add the wine and cook for 1 minute.
2. Add carrots, celery, half of the parsley, water, bay leaves and lentils. Bring to a boil, then simmer, partially covered until lentils are tender, about 30 to 35 minutes.
3. Remove bay leaf and add tomatoes, umeboshi vinegar or lemon juice, salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings, and simmer for an additional few minutes. Add remaining parsley just before serving