Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Root vegetable chowder with bacon

I don't even remember the last time I posted, but then again most of the last week and a half are lost in a haze. I've been sick with a virus that went into the lungs and became bronchitis. For seven days, my temperature would cycle up to 103.5 degrees and then back down to a "normal" of around 101. I alternately froze and shivered like a naked person in Siberia or poured out sweat like Niagara. It wasn't fun. But it's starting to clear up now, and for that I am grateful.

The last thing I cooked before I went down for the count about a little over a week ago was a root vegetable chowder with bacon. It surprised me how delicious it was because it started with the inauspicious need to clean out the larder a bit. We just had too many wrinkly roots lying around, and something needed to be done with them before they went bad. I ended up using a combination of potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, and small white turnips.

It all ended up being a rich, warm, deeply satisfying soup that's thickened by the starch in the potatoes. Good enough that two grown men (Mike and Uncle Dave) stood around the nearly empty pot after dinner scraping with their spoons to get every last bit. That's a real compliment to a cook.

I suspect you can use any combination of root vegetables you have available as long you think about balancing sweet and mild with bitter. And hell, throw in some thinly sliced greens at the end of the cooking if you have them. 

Make sure your root vegetables are all cut to even sizes. This is a good way to practice your knife skills!


  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 5 slices thick-cut bacon, sliced thinly
  • 1 and 1/2 medium yellow onions (or 1 large), diced finely 
  • 3 yellow potatoes, peeled, 1/4 inch dice
  • 2 small-medium sweet potatoes, peeled, 1/4 inch dice
  • 1 parsnip, peeled, 1/4 inch dice
  • 4 small white turnips, peeled, 1/4 inch dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 cups chicken stock (homemade preferable, but a good organic broth will do just fine)
  • 1 cup half and half
  • salt and white pepper
What to do

  1. Melt butter in a large stock pot. Fry the pieces of bacon in the butter until the bacon is brown and crispy. Take the bacon out of the pot, set it aside to drain on paper towels for the time being. 
  2. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the onions to the pot. Let them sweat for about 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Don't let them get crispy. They should be soft and translucent. (They will probably pick up some brown from the bacon fat, but don't worry about that.)
  3. Raise the temperature to medium. Add the vegetables to the pot. Stirring from time to time, let them soften and brown a bit, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the stock and the crushed garlic to the pot. Bring the liquid up to a boil and then lower the temperature to a simmer. Let it cook for 20-30 minutes, until the vegetables soften and some of them start to fall apart a bit. If the stock isn't a bit thick at this point, let the vegetable cook for another 5-10 minutes to get more starch into the water.  
  5. Add half and half and salt and pepper to taste. Bring the temperature up but don't let the soup boil again (if you do, the half and half can curdle, which won't kill you but definitely ruins the texture of the soup). Add the reserved bacon back into the soup and serve.