Pulled from their warm beds before they awaken to the lavender and tangerine dawn of a Provençal morning, they are tossed into weathered wooden crates that are cracked beneath worn labels, the wood as gray as the wild hares in the field. These slender fingers of organic gold point the way to the market from their crates as they are loaded into the back of the dusty white panel truck.
The rising sun's first warmth coaxes a complex perfume from the fresh bounty that blends and wafts into the cab of the truck as the farmer makes his way from the fields to this new day’s market: bass notes of earth, mid-notes of tomatoes and fennel and sweet high notes of carrots and new onions.
Now unloaded and spread over sturdy tables set up side by side, the fiesta of color that is the marché in Provence – regardless the village or ville – entices me before I ever dig into those crates for the day’s menu. I drop the carrots into my basket to be weighed and before I wipe the dirt, picked up in the selection process, from my hands, I stop to press a tiny clump between my thumb and forefinger to see if I can sense the earth’s lingering warmth. I brush it off before digging into my jeans pocket for change to pay the vendor, his own hands stained with endless days working the same soil I just brushed away. As the money changes hands, I’m silently grateful for the familiar smile flashed at me as I’m wished a "bon journée", grateful that I know who grew the carrots that now fill my basket. I’m happy to be supporting the new organic wave that is hitting France.
A few slices and simmers later and this velouté de carottes (velvety carrot soup) is ready for prime time. Or an afternoon hour when something light and cool will drop the internal temperature down a notch.
In a perfect world, you’d be napping in a hammock as an occasional cool breeze softly thumbs through the pages of the book you were reading before you dozed off. The sound of your own name pulls you back from the edge of a dream. You open your eyes and see a figure through the unravelled bare spot in the favorite straw hat that shades your face.
An outstretched hand is offering a cup and a spoon. You reach to accept it and the chill against your fingers triggers a cascade of memories of cooling down as a kid: the patch of wide-leafed dichondra under the shade of the pine trees where you would lay on your back and watch clouds on a late summer afternoon, the first chill of a slight breeze on a wet swimsuit after running through the sprinklers in the mid-day sun, the pleasing crunch and squish that is a first bite into the slice of a watermelon that was just pulled out of the rustic refrigeration unit that is the stream near your family's campsite.
The first refreshing mouthful of this soup is a bit of a surprise: kicked up with spices and calmed down with coconut milk. Sip after silky sip has you thinking it’s not so bad cooling down as a grown-up either.
Enjoy it as a first course to a summer meal, or alongside a slice of tart and salad...or all by itself.
Now slip back into that hammock and enjoy the rest of the afternoon!
p.s. I know I am way behind on responding to comments. Sorry. I'll catch up. In the meantime, eat your soup!
Velouté de Carottes (Adapted from Soupes du Jour by Anne-Catherine Bley)
1.5 liters water
3 lovely new onions
1-teaspoon ground coriander
1-teaspoon ground cumin
1-teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 small can (16.5 ml) coconut milk
sea salt and pepper to taste
Chop and sauté the onions in a bit of olive oil in a soup pot. While the onions are turning golden, peel and cut the carrots in rounds. Before adding them to the pot, toss the spices into the onions and cook gently until you can smell their perfume. Add the carrots and the water. Bring water to a boil then turn the heat down to a simmer for about 30 minutes. The carrots should be very tender.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes before blending the mixture into a smooth soup. Add the coconut milk. Adjust seasonings. Refrigerate for at least an hour if you want to enjoy this cold. (This is, by the way, delicious hot, warm or cold.)
For a fresher bite, do not sauté the new onions but simply add them and the spices after the carrots have simmered to their desired tenderness. If new onions are not available, use regular onions but do sauté them first.