On Season 6 of "Top Chef," I was rooting for the guy with the big red beard and all those tattoos -- Kevin Gillespie.
He didn't win, but he should have, in my estimation, because his food looked like something I wanted to eat. Hearty, barbecuey and always with turnips, or so I remember.
I was tickled the day I saw him at the little hipster hole-in-the wall in the East Village where I get a cup of really great coffee when I'm in New York. I should have whispered, "You were the best, not those twins." But there's this unspoken pact between New Yorkers and celebrity. You pretend you don't see them.
These days, Kevin Gillespie is executive chef of the Woodfire Grill in Atlanta. His new book is "Fire in My Belly: Real Cooking" co-written with David Joachim. It's big and beautiful, a little cheffy but also down-home and folksy. Pull up a cast-iron skillet, it seems to say. Let me show you how I do this.
Chef Gillespie writes: "I tried to explain here and there why you do things a certain way. These little explanations help you become a better cook."
He lets you off the hook a few lines later.
"But maybe you don't care about cooking better. Maybe you just want something completely delicious to eat. You'll find that here, too."
Yes you will. And this soup is one you'll make again and again. Sure, it takes some time to cut up the vegetables, but it's gorgeous and soothing and everyone will love it. Serve it perhaps with Chef Gillespie's iteration of a turkey sandwich: grilled marinated turkey breast sliced paper thin, piled on herb-grilled pita bread, with tahini sauce and pickled beets. Shawarma with Tahini Sauce.
Root Vegetable Soup
If you don't have one of the root vegetables, use more of another. I lacked rutabagas, so I used more baby turnips and sunchokes, both from my garden. Make sure the turnip greens are young and tender.
-- Miriam Rubin
- 8 ounces pancetta or unsmoked bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice (I used regular bacon)
- 2 large onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 2 1/2 cups)
- 1 1/4 cups peeled and 1/4-inch-diced rutabaga
- 1 cup 1/4-inch-diced celery stalk
- 2/3 cup peeled and 1/4-inch-diced carrots
- 1 1/4 cups peeled and 1/4-inch-diced sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes)
- 1 1/4 cups peeled and 1/4-inch-diced turnips (I used baby turnips and didn't peel them)
- 1 cup peeled and 1/4-inch-diced parsnips
- 4 large garlic cloves, very thinly sliced (Chef Gillespie uses a mandoline)
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon Espelette pepper (Chef Gillespie says it's "hotter than paprika, a little milder than cayenne, and more aromatic than both." I used a heaping 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper and freshly ground black pepper)
- 1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt (depending on saltiness of bacon and broth)
- 4 cups very thinly sliced, loosely packed baby turnip greens (from about 1 or 2 large bunches)
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh chives
- 1/4 cup minced celery leaves
Heat large enameled cast-iron or other heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add pancetta or bacon. Cook and stir until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. (I had a lot of fat and spooned off 2 tablespoons of it.)
Add onions, rutabaga, celery and carrots and cook until vegetables start to soften and onions become translucent, about 6 minutes, stirring often. Add sunchokes, turnips and parsnips; cook 8 more minutes, stirring a few times. Stir in garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Stir in chicken broth, Espelette pepper and salt. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 5 minutes, until vegetables are just tender. Remove from heat, stir in turnip greens and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Taste and season as needed with more salt and lemon juice. Ladle into bowls and garnish with parsley, chives and celery leaves.
Makes 8 servings.
-- Adapted from "Fire in My Belly: Real Cooking" by Kevin Gillespie with David Joachim (Andrews McMeel, 2012, $40)
Miriam Rubin: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mmmrubin.