Here is a course for Easter brunch or dinner that looks like a painting and tastes like a spring garden.
Based on a Finnish recipe called Kesakeitto, or Finnish Summer Soup, this is a small mound of the most delicate spring vegetables pooled in a broth of hot, fresh milk, garnished with smoked salmon and peas.
My version of the dish crosses the Atlantic and backs up a season; I call it “Early Spring Soup in New England.”
Small parsnips, baby turnips, tiny yellow beets, broccoli florets, the tiniest baby potatoes, and a dice of carrots, all looked quickly in boiling salted water, mound in the center of each bowl.
I looked for the best vegetables I could find. I chopped the larger vegetables like parsnips and carrots, (Never use “baby carrots,” as they are not young at all, but old wooden carrots cut down.) still looking for the smallest versions of them, into a tiny dice. If a beet or turnip was small enough, I sliced them into rounds. Along with a variety of vegetables, I wanted a variety of shapes, not just a pile of diced Birds Eye veggies. The only vegetable I kept whole were the tiny potatoes.
I found a treasure of root vegetables at the Somerville Winter Farmer’s Market, but if seeking freshly dug produce isn’t on your to-do list this week, a keen eye at the grocery store will be allow you a beautiful palette in your bowl, and probably a delicious one.
All the vegetables are cooked in boiling, salted water, beginning with the vegetables that make take the longest, (in my case it was the potatoes,) to the vegetables that will cook the fastest, using your judgement. My order went like this: potatoes cooked for two minutes, then I added the diced parsnip and carrots, then the beets and turnips, then the broccoli.
Half the deliciousness of this soup is the milk broth, simply the freshest, best milk you can find heated with a tiny bit of sugar and flour, and poured hot over the vegetables. The thirty-eight Jersey cows at Appleton Farms in Ipswich can take a bow here; for them I can thank the clean, sweet dousing all those lovely vegetables receive.
I slit open a few snap peas, and saved the tiny beads inside for a garnish, along with some thinly sliced radishes, and fresh dill. Rosy chunks of smoked salmon crumbled over the top. I prefer the hot-smoked chunky kind for this, and used the locally cured Sasquatch smoked salmon available at Willowrest in Gloucester, but Steve Connolly also sells excellent hot-smoked salmon.
This recipe isn’t as traditional as deviled eggs or lemon meringue pie, but it’s a true if not beautiful display of Easter in New England, when the local parsnips are a better taste bargain than the still-woody Mexican asparagus at the grocery store.
Early Spring Soup
Based on the Finnish Kesakeitto
4 cups organic whole milk, preferably local
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus 1 tablespoon for the vegetables
8 cups of tiny, fresh vegetables: broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, new potatoes, zucchini, carrot, onion, asparagus tips, kohlrabi, beets, turnips, fennel, radishes, and especially peas
water to cover
for the garnish:
1/2 pound hot-smoked salmon
fresh radishes, thinly sliced
fresh peas, or the tiny peas from inside 4-5 snap peas
fresh dill, chopped
fresh pepper (use white pepper if you want to retain the whiteness of the milk.)
In a large saucepan, stir together the sugar, flour and salt. Slowly at first, stirring to blend, add the milk. Whisk until mixture is smooth. Gently heat the milk, whisking it occasionally to keep the flour from cooking on the bottom of the pan. Do not let it boil.
In a separate large pot, bring the salted water to a boil.
Prep the vegetables, peeling the potatoes, carrots, beets and turnips to keep them tender, and cutting all into roughly equivalent size.
When the water boils, drop in the vegetables that will take the longest to cook, like the potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, etc. Cook for 1-2 minutes, and then add the lighter vegetables like radishes, peas, and broccoli. Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon or sieve, and distribute them evenly into heated bowls. Pour the hot milk over the vegetables but not to cover. Allow the vegetables to rise attractively in a mound out of the milk.
Crumble the smoked salmon over the top, and garnish with radish, peas, and dill. Grind some pepper over all, and serve immediately.
Sprinkle with flaked salmon distributing Drain and add vegetables to the hot milk and cook – but again, do not boil – for a minute or two. Stir in cream to taste and warm through. Adjust seasonings.
To serve, scoop a few vegetables into a bowl, then top with broth and a sprinkling of fresh dill.
Savor slowly — tasting that summer sunshine.
Rockport resident Heather Atwood writes “Food for Thought” weekly. Questions and comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her blog at HeatherAtwood.com.