When I realized, recently, that my ancient copy of The Moosewood Cookbook had broken into 2 pieces, I was not at all surprised to learn that the page on which the binding broke is the page for Cream of Spinach Soup. I don't cook too many things from Moosewood anymore (with a few significant exceptions, of course), but this soup is one of the absolute keepers.
What's funny about the soup is that I make no other soup this way. In fact, I've never seen a recipe for another soup that follows this same method. I think that's interesting, especially given that there's basically a formula you can use that is adaptable to many kinds of soup. (That would be the saute onions, carrots and celery in a bit of oil, add the other vegetables and/or beans and herbs, add the liquid, bring to a boil, let simmer, etc. formula.) This soup is not like that. Mollie Katzen tells you to put a potato, an onion, a carrot and a clove of garlic in a pot and cover with water, then cook til the vegetables are soft and then puree it all, thus creating a stock that is not stock. I am sure that I could fiddle with this recipe and find a more sophisticated way of getting to this same place, but I have no interest in doing that because this way works just fine. (In the revised edition, she's more specific with amounts, but I still see no need to change the original. This is one soup, though, that definitely benefits from having an immersion blender, as you have to puree both the vegetables and the spinach, and it's much easier not to have to deal with a traditional blender.)
The other thing interesting about this recipe is the amount of butter. In the original Moosewood, published during a time that vegetarian food had to be made palatable by the addition of massive amounts of butter and cheese, the recipe calls for a roux that includes 1/3 cup of butter. There is no reason to have 1/3 cup of butter in this soup, and from the beginning, I cut it down to 1 or 2 tablespoons. Still, when a new addition of Moosewood came out, I was surprised to learn that the butter had gone from 1/3 of a cup to optional. This seemed excessive, and I ignored the new instructions just as I had ignored the old, although, admittedly, the optional amount of butter in the revised recipe is approximately what I use anyway. The 1-2 tablespoons of butter gives it some depth but doesn't make it heavy. I also always use 1% milk because that's what I mostly have in the house, and it comes out just fine. (I do find that the roux thickens more quickly if the milk is already hot, so I usually heat it up in the microwave before adding it to the roux.)
The recipe is also flexible enough to adapt to any kind of spinach you might have. I've made it with frozen spinach and with fresh spinach in a bag from the grocery store. I will admit, however, that the best versions of this soup have been made with (usually organic, though not always) spinach bought from the farmers market and cooked shortly thereafter.
Even though I occasionally flirt with other spinach soups (like the lovely spinach and green garlic soup from Orangette), I always come back to this one. It's not just that I've been making it for as long as I've been cooking and can remember all of the kitchens in which I've made it. It's that I haven't found one to top it. Sometimes it's just good in an ordinary way, but when I can make it in the fall, when all of the vegetables are newly out of the ground and when the chill in the air is there to remind us of what's ahead, it can be sublime. And there's no way that something this shade of green isn't good for you. But that it's good for you is secondary. I make this soup over and over because it's a lovely thing to eat, no matter the time of year.
Cream of Spinach Soup
Adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook
1 clove garlic
Cover w/ water. Steam until tender. Puree in its own water. (I usually don't peel the potato, especially if it's organic, but you can if you want.)
Steam 1lb. spinach in 1 cup water till wilted. Puree.
Make roux by whisking 1-2 tablespoons flour into 1-2 tablespoons melted butter. Whisk in 2 cups (warm) milk and cook over very low heat, stirring, until thickened.
Add the spinach to the roux, along with
1/2 tsp. salt ( or more)
1/2 tsp. basil
(any fresh herb like parsley or marjoram)
Add carrot/potato onion mixture to spinach. Adjust seasoning and, if too thick, add milk.
Heat (very low flame) and stir till smooth, creamy, green, fragrant. (The soup is all of these things, but I do usually find it needs more salt. At this point at the end, I like to use Maldon salt or other sea salt. I also sometimes grate in a bit of Parmesan cheese.)
Serves 4. Time: An easy 40 minutes.