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       –garnished with sautéed pistachios, cilantro, and lemon or orange juice

A trip to Napa is incomplete without #1: getting there by going over the Golden Gate bridge and #2: tasting a little Napa Chard– short for Chardonnay–

… maybe even with some quintessential California cheese, if you see any.

On a whirlwind four-day biennial wine trip with our local wine group plus a few good friends and cooks from other locales, we of course tasted bottles besides Chardonnay.

There were Cabs– short for Cabernet Sauvignon– and Cab blends. Think Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cab Franc.

at Round Pond

Spring Mountain Winery

Ish Rivera, Senior Wine Educator and Sommelier at Spring Mountain Winery, at center, with our group

Above: Spring Mountain Vineyard wines.

These were big Cabs (are there any other?) and aren’t my favorite drink-a-lot-wines as they are massive, nearly always too alcoholic for me, and simply feel weighty in my wine soul. Give me a roast beef or steak, a thick juicy lamb chop–even a hefty summer burger in the back yard, however, and I’ll happily swill a little California Cab with the best of them. Just not too much.

Cameron Kraft, Sales and Hospitality Manger at HDV.  Check out this winery.

The Cab blends were more to my taste all around as I’m a bit more partial to a Bordeaux whenever I can get one (read afford).  I was more naturally drawn to the spikey Sauvignon Blancs–which were also a tish citrusy and nearly a shade more delicate than I’ve ever remembered a California Sauv Blanc being. (French cousins are typically happier bottles at our house and I’m not really crazy about the NZ juice unless we’re sitting out on a hot summer day on the porch eating a shrimp or scallop salad.)

Dan Parrott, of JAX, at left in ball cap.

The oddly free-standing and majestic Syrahs were stunners –YES!– and the juicy Pinot noirs surprised and delighted all.  My, my. I liked the Pinots better than I thought I would given my Oregon Pinot Noir girl status.

Happily walking the streets of Yountville

–in front of Alpha Omega

Wines of the Last Supper

Forgive me, Ken Wright. Either the wines or my tastes are changing or maybe only moving around.  CA Pinots have been–in the past– rather jammy for my tastes, which run to a more elegant and lighter style of wine that pairs easily with more sorts of foods. California has been a warm place to grow the more tender Pinot Noir grapes, which are happier in cooler climes.

Back at home, a plethora of skinny, thin-skinned carrots called from the fridge and nothing to do but stir them into a new soup on a cool day.  A favorite carrot quote:

You’d be a lot more appreciative of carrots if it took YOU three months to grow one.

I had started thinking cumin as I adore whole carrots roasted with freshly ground cumin.

I then couldn’t get a cupful of addictive Napa Chardonnay — I  was missing it, it seemed– to do anything but hop in bed with those soon-to-be spicy carrots, leeks, shallots, and garlic. No, I didn’t put Montelena in the soup.

A quick simmer with aromatics and herbs, pours of Chardonnay and broth, a run through the blender, a toasting-sautéing of shelled pistachios for the garnish, and we were soon eating dinner. It must have been seeing signs like the one below that inspired me. Getting away is its own sweet happiness, you know… We’re never the same on return. I’m so glad you’re following along as I adore arm chair or kitchen traveling myself whether on social media, on tv/movies, in a guidebook, or by cooking, and hope you feel the same way.

–The line at the right was to get into the bakery itself.  We ate at Hurley’s–YUM.

Put a little Napa in your heart today and try this:

NAPA CARROT SOUP

Lest you think there really is a Napa carrot soup, I have no idea about that. Perhaps there is or maybe there’s not. I do know that this is MY Napa Carrot soup and you can definitely make it yours, too. Not a cumin fan? Skip it and, instead–for a more traditional flavor profile–add a couple of sprigs of thyme or 2 teaspoons dried thyme along with a bay leaf, which you need to remember to remove before puréeing. Try almonds and parsley rather than pistachios and cilantro, if you go with thyme and bay. Easily vegetarian/vegan with a change from chicken to vegetable broth, this soup deserves to have you warm your bowls whatever you do. 

4 servings (6 for a small first course)

  • California olive oil (plus more for garnish)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seed or more to taste
  • Pinch crushed red pepper
  • 3 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced thinly
  • 3 shallots, sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) California Chardonnay
  • 2 pounds carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Handful of fresh parsley, including stems (the stems are very tasty in soup)
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) water
  • 4 cups (32 ounces) chicken or vegetable broth
  • 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • A few drops of hot sauce or to taste
  • 1/2 cup shelled pistachios (for garnish)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (for garnish)
  • Juice of a small fresh orange or lemon, divided (for garnish)

TOAST THE SPICES: In a heavy 8-quart lidded soup pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat for a minute; add cumin and crushed red pepper, stirring for 30 seconds.

SWEAT THE AROMATICS/COOK DOWN THE WINE:  Tip in the chopped leeks, shallots, and garlic. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and let cook, covered, 5 minutes or until softening; don’t brown.  Pour in wine and let cook down 2-3 minutes, stirring.

ADD CARROTS, LIQUIDS+TOMATOES. COOK UNTIL TENDER: Add carrots and parsley along with another 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Stir and let cook another 2 minutes. Pour in water, broth, tomatoes, and tomato paste; bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, cover, and cook– stirring regularly– until all vegetables are very tender — about a half hour. Taste; adjust seasonings. Add hot sauce to taste.

MEANWHILE, MAKE THE GARNISH, AND SET ASIDE: Meanwhile, in a small skillet, toast-sauté pistachios in the two more tablespoons of oil for five minutes, stirring. Remove from heat and stir together with cilantro and the orange or lemon juice. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside.

PURÉE SOUP WITH A LAST TABLESPOON of OLIVE OIL/SERVE HOT: Purée carefully in batches in blender/food processor, or by hand with immersion blender, adding a tablespoon of olive oil to emulsify. Taste and adjust seasonings one last time.  Serve hot with a spoonful or two of pistachio mixture at center for garnish. Drizzle with orange or lemon juice and a few drips of olive oil.  Grind a last bit of black pepper over the whole bowl. Add crusty bread and cheese for a complete meal.

{printable recipe}

COOK’S NOTES: I have a really old BRAUN coffee grinder I’ve long since designated as a spice grinder.  I grind my cumin seed in it, among many other things. You can also use a mortar and pestle or a plain old blender. (Clean well after using.)  Don’t have one? Check your local thrift store.

Wine:  California Chardonnay, of course. Here’s something to read.

Dessert: Whatever you want. You had vegetable soup for dinner.

If you by chance have my cookbook, there’s a Tomato-Carrot Soup with Feta in it (a top favorite at every testing, even with kids) that is part of the string of inspiration or creative process for making this Napa Carrot Soup. Another might be a soup I teach in my French II cooking class, Potage Crécy:

Above:  Alyce’s Potage Crécy

Below:  Today’s Napa Carrot Soup

Wondering about when to capitalize wine names or varietals? This is the advice I follow, though there are other thoughts on the subject:

 According to standard scientific practice, you capitalize the names of the grape varieties:

Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay.

You do not capitalize the adjectives of those grape varieties. Thus an ampellographer would tell you that it is Pinot noir, not Pinot Noir.

If I’m writing the name of a specific wine, such as Oregon Pinot Noir or Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, of course I’d capitalize as I would for any proper noun; that’s only fair, right?

IMG_8238

Garden rosemary in bloom

Cook a new soup; drink a new wine. Thanks for spending more time at the table; I’m so grateful for your presence.  (NEXT UP: Friday Fish)

Alyce