Baby food for grown ups

I had intended to make soup. I ended up with puree. First I steamed two diced celeriacs, a bunch of very thin carrots, and two or three small potatoes (all from our veggie box). When everything was tender, I mashed them together with two cups of chicken stock, which I then attempted to thin, unsuccessfully, with another two cups of water; it seemed a shame to dilute it any further. I added the rest of some leftover sour cream and seasoned it with salt and pepper. After pureeing the mixture with a hand blender, I garnished it with some crumbled feta. Heady stuff, those celeriacs.

I assume most Americans use “puree” as a verb—a cooking technique borrowed from the French, like “saute”. The chief puree-as-a-noun dish to persist in present day American cuisine is mashed potatoes, which is ironic because in French the word for mashed potatoes is purée. Apparently the “mac and cheese” of French children is jambon-purée, or mashed potatoes with little bits of ham and the ubiquitous gruyère râpé (shredded Gruyere cheese). I’m reminded of the dehydrated Purée au Jambon we got in France and brought all the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

It’d be amusing to write a cookbook to elevate the lowly puree—or at least elevate it in people’s minds—beyond mere mashed potatoes and blender speeds. Among all dishes, a puree is the perfect vehicle to practice a more formulaic (and I mean that in the best possible way) approach to cooking. The platonic puree cookbook would be very short: take what you have, steam or boil it, puree it with liquid, season it, and voila. It’s the myriad combinations I find so enticing. Why did we combine celeriac and carrots? Because that’s what we had! Could we have thrown in a romanesco? Sure! That said, I bet there’s a whole world of interesting purees out there just waiting to have their stories told.

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