I have always had a certainly respect for Thomas Jefferson. I would even go so far as to say that he’s one of my heroes. So when I decided to go to university in Virginia, I made a point of going to Monticello – Thomas Jefferson’s home – at least once a year. It is a beautiful home in Charlottesville – nestled in the gorgeous blue ridge mountains. The drive alone is worth it – seriously. But then you drive up to this majestic, dome-topped structure which Jefferson designed himself. Being somewhat of an architecture buff myself, I love the careful thought and planning that went into every single aspect of the home. Jefferson intentionally placed the staircases hidden from view – intentionally going against the common trend of the wealth to have a grandiose staircase right in the lobby. This architectural feature was not only meant to impress your guests, but it was a status symbol as the host literally descended from above to meet whomever was invited to grace their presence. Jefferson was the champion of “all men created equal” and his humble, yet pristine lobby is evidence of that. Each room in the home was meant to teach the viewer something – from the religious paintings, to the busts of philosophers, scientists, and politicos. The dining room has always impressed me. Tour guides corral guests into the sitting room complete with fireplace, conjoined to a slightly smaller room completely surrounded by windows where a modest wood table supports gorgeous imported china and serving-ware. The tour guides make a point to mention that, when you were invited to dine with the Jeffersons, you could expect it to be a 4-hour affair with courses planned by Martha Jefferson, and produce picked fresh from Jefferson’s own garden – and he was quite the gardener. Jefferson was a wonderful conversationalist and well-versed on any subject, but even so, when you came, he hoped to learn something from you. Truly someone to admire.
But anyway, back to food. When my husband graduated from Southern Virginia University (where we met, and my alma mater also), his parents drove across the country to attend the graduation. It happened to coincide with my birthday, so my thoughtful mother-in-law asked if I could think of a book I wanted. I’m not a big reader – don’t get me wrong, I wish I were, but I haven’t yet cultivated that love. So instead, I had spotted “Dining at Monticello” a some time earlier and had my eye on it. A cookbook. Of course. It didn’t have nearly enough pictures (in my mind, all cookbooks should have a full-color picture of every single recipe), but each recipe included a sidebar of historical context and notes. I is a wonderfully interesting cookbook.
I’ve been on this health kick recently and hence I search for recipes that utilize more than 2 vegetables. This white bean soup fit the bill. Beans are awesome for you, and i liked the fact that it called for turnips and parsnips. I can with certainty admit that I’ve never cooked with either of those vegetables. I’m fairly certain I’m never actually eaten them either. I jumped at the chance to try something new – not realizing how challenging it would be to find turnips and parsnips at my favorite produce shops. I finally found success at Walmart. I hate Walmart produce. It doesn’t last very long, it’s not very pretty when you buy it, and most things are mislabled or mispriced or both. It’s a mess that I try to avoid if I can. But, I happened to be at Walmart for something else and thought I’d check the random assortment of root vegetables for what I was unable to find elsewhere. Victory!
Ok, on to the recipe. I try to make it a habit to read the recipe all the way through at least once before I ever pick up my knife or get out a pot. I like to know what I’m in for. And, since I was dealing with unfamiliar vegetables, I studied the recipe even more so.
“1 parsnip, peeled and diced” – okay, I can do that. It looked like a yellow carrot and as I started to peel, it revealed a stark white meat that smelled slightly of lemon.
“1 turnip, peeled and diced” – got it. Easy enough. The purple skin, when removed, left a vegetable which greatly resembled a potato (red, not Russet). This smelled like cabbage – not my favorite scent in the world, but I was willing to trust the Jeffersons.
Now I just have to find another recipe that will use the other parsnips and turnips that came in the package…
I added the other ingredients and boiled and boiled. I cheated and used canned cannelini beans instead of cooking my own. I made sure to drain them and rinse them first so as to not add too much salt to my soup. Once everything was boiled, I stuck in my immersion blender and let it work. I was actually fairly surprised that the soup wan’t white, it had a very distinct orange tint (from the carrot no doubt). I tasted it – plenty salty – and added the diced celery. I like celery.
I knew my husband wasn’t going to be as excited as I was about having nothing but soup for dinner, so I made some popcorn. While living in Ecuador, my husband and I frequented a lunch spot that often served popcorn as a side to the cream-based soups, and topped them with creamy cheese chunks. We loved it. And while Jefferson’s soup contains no cream, the concept was there. I cut some mozzarella into cubes and, after ladling some soup into a bowl, added them to the steamy puree. The pictured soup is adorned with only a few pieces of popcorn, but I kept adding more to my soup because 1 – it adds a nice crunch, and 2 – I absolutely love fresh, home-popped popcorn (any most other kinds of popcorn, too).
The soup went over well and now I’m making myself hungry. Time for a snack!