I have to concede that this can’t be called bouillabaisse because it has no fish in it. But the wonderful richness of flavour rivals a real bouillabaisse, and it looks gorgeous too. Nadine Abensur is a genius to think of replacing the fish with celeriac, whose sweetness complements the spiciness of the soup perfectly (I think parsnip could be another option here). Although it’s “just” a soup, it makes a light main course; this quantity will serve 3 or 4. Sorry, no photo because the ones I took were so awful. But it’s a lovely brick-red colour, just like the real thing — and a lot cheaper
The ingredients list looks long and daunting. But almost all of them are storecupboard ingredients or basics you are likely to have on hand anyway. And it’s an excellent idea to make it in advance. I cooked it completely several hours beforehand, then left it to sit and mature before liquidising part of it and reheating. The rouille, a spicy form of mayonnaise, takes minutes if you have a stick blender.
This recipe is from Nadine Abensur’s excellent Cranks Bible. If you remember the ghastly wholemeal stodge Crank’s used to serve in the 1970s, it’s nothing like that. As this recipe demonstrates, the recipes are imaginative and heavily influenced by Abensur’s French and North African background. If you like Ottolenghi’s Plenty, you’ll like this, and I highly recommend it if you are vegetarian, cook for vegetarians, or just fancy meatless meals every now and then. You’ll probably have to search for a second-hand copy, but it’s worth seeking out.
Dried orange peel from half an orange (see below)
3 tbs olive oil
1 small leek or a small onion, sliced
1 small carrot, diced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 small red pepper, diced
1/2 tbsp fennel seeds
a few threads of saffron
1 tsp tomato puree, or a couple of sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp soft brown sugar
1 medium celeriac, peeled and chopped into pieces about 1 cm square
1 litre vegetable stock (or chicken, if you are not vegetarian)
125 ml white wine or dry vermouth
3tbs chopped parsley
To serve: thin slices of baguette, lightly toasted
2 oz gruyere cheese, finely grated
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tsp tomato puree
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp paprika or pimentón dulce
1 small roasted pepper (from a jar), chopped
1/2 tbs lemon juice
pinch cayenne pepper or pimentón picante
1 egg yolk
pinch sea salt
225 ml olive oil (not too strong-tasting)
To dry orange peel, peel strips of it as thinly as possible (I use a vegetable peeler) )and leave it in a low oven for about 40 minutes; store in an airtight tin.
Heat half the olive oil in a large, heavy-based pan over a moderate heat, and gently cook the leeks for a few minutes. Then add the garlic, carrot, and red pepper and continue to cook gently for 10 minutes or so till the vegetables soften. Add the spices, orange peel, brown sugar, tomato puree, and celeriac and saute for 5 minutes, turning the celeriac to coat it nicely in the aromatics.
Add the hot stock and another spoonful of olive oil, season with black pepper, and cook at a lively simmer for about half an hour. Add the wine and the chopped parsley and cook for another 10 minutes. The celeriac should be nice and soft by now — if it isn’t, cook it some more. At this point you can set it aside.
Make the rouille: this is absurdly easy if you have a stick blender. Just put all the ingredients except the oil in the beaker and whiz to blend. Then pour in the oil bit by bit, whizzing constantly and pulling the blender up through the mixture to pull the oil in gradually. It will thicken as it emulsifies. Taste and adjust the seasoning (adding more salt or lemon juice, for example, or cayenne if you think it isn’t sharp enough. It should have a good kick without being chilli-hot, remember we are in France). Note: this is the minimum quantity you can make, but leftovers will keep for a week covered in the fridge.
When you want to serve, remove about a quarter to a third of the soup (depending on how chunky you want it to be) and liquidise it thoroughly before returning it to the pan. The original recipe says to liquidise almost all of it, but I decided I wanted it to look more like bouillabaisse than plain fish soup, with actual chunks in it, and flecks of red pepper. Reheat, check seasoning and correct as necessary. Toast the slices of baguette.
Serve in wide bowls with toast, a pot of rouille, and the grated cheese; each person tops the toasts with rouille and cheese, floating them in the soup.
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