Apple and Broccoli Soup (Inspired by Fleet Foxes)

THE DISH
Apple and broccoli soup (recipe here)

THE INSPIRATION
I’ve said it before, but what I miss most about the Midwest in the fall is apple orchards and cider mills. I remember school apple-picking field trips as far back as preschool (the photo to the right is of my sister circa 1991-92): taking a tractor-pulled wagon ride through the orchard, getting dropped off near sectioned-off area for different varieties of apples, then eating them right off the tree as we filled our bags.

There are a couple songs on Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues with references to apple orchards: In the title track, Robin Pecknold sings, “If I had an orchard I’d work till I’m raw/ If I had an orchard I’d work till I’m sore,” and in “The Shrine/An Argument,” it’s “Apples in the summer are cold and sweet” and later in the song “Green apples hang from my tree/ They belong only to me.” But quite a few parts of the album make me think about my childhood besides just the references to apples. The album opens with, “So now I am older/ Than my mother and father, when they had their daughter/ Now what does that say about me?” And then in the title track, Pecknold sings, “I was raised up believing I was somehow unique/ Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see/ And now after some thinking I’d say I’d rather be/ A functioning cog in some great machinery, serving something beyond me,” and then he goes on to say he doesn’t know yet what exactly that will be or where he’ll end up. Something like this was mentioned in the recent New York Magazine cover story about today’s 20-somethings — like Pecknold and myself — and I know a ton of us can relate in that we’re all trying to figure out where we’re supposed to be in the world and what our bigger purpose is. We’re remembering that we were always told we’re special and can do big things with our lives, and sometimes realizing that that might mean contributing to a bigger project or cause rather than simply working toward what we want on our own.

So, the food: My best friend Jenni came to visit a couple weeks ago, and even though our plans to actually go apple-picking fell through, we decided to go forward with the apple-themed dinner we’d planned. I wouldn’t say we worked till we were sore, like in the song, but we certainly worked hard: apple-honey challah, salad, apple-pear crisp, and this soup as the main dish. Fleet Foxes are the ultimate fall band, and my falls are typically all soup all the time, so that part was easy. You’re probably thinking broccoli and apple sounds like a strange combination, or assuming that this is a sweet dish — but it’s actually mostly savory and the apples add just a touch of sweetness (and I’d consider most of Fleet Foxes’ music savory, but with sweetness in the harmonies). The apples are roasted in olive oil, thyme, sage, salt and pepper — definitely not your typical cinnamon and nutmeg. And, the soup is vegan since Pecknold is, too.


THE RECIPE
Adapted from Le Delicieux. Serves about 12.

Ingredients:
6 apples, cored and sliced (I think we used a couple Granny Smiths and a few red; I peeled them but you can leave the skin on)
2 pounds broccoli (about three small heads), chopped
1/4 cup of olive oil, separated
2 small onions, diced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of chopped sage leaves, separated
A few thyme sprigs
8 cups vegetable stock (or water with boullion cubes)
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

• Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss apple slices with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of chopped sage leaves, salt and pepper. Set the thyme sprigs on top of the apples. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for about 20 minutes, until the apples are tender but not complete mush. Remove the thyme sprigs. When the apples cool, chop them into smaller pieces.

• Heat the rest of the oil in a stock pot. Add chopped celery, onions, garlic and the rest of the sage, and cook until tender.

• Add the broccoli, stir and cook for about four minutes, then add the apples and cook for another couple minutes.

• Add the broth, stir, and bring to a boil. Cook for another five minutes.

• When the soup cools a little bit, puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a food processor. We left a few chunks of broccoli and apple for some texture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Our apple feast — my friend Lionel wore an I ❤ NY shirt to go with the theme.

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