Monday, March 21, 2011

Yes, it's still cold enough for hot soups

I am a huge fan of soups, as you may have noticed from my blog. For me and for others, they are the ultimate comfort food. What's better on a cold evening than a big bowl of hot, flavorful soup full of chunks of veggies and some kind of meat? Accompany the soup with a hot, fresh roll (and if you're really hungry, a salad) and you have a complete meal. Soups have other advantages, too. You can be creative and use making soup as an opportunity to purge your refrigerator. Leftover chicken or turkey, rice, the last bit of carrots and cauliflower -- whatever's in the crisper -- all lend themselves to making hearty, flavorful, satisfying soup.

During the winter, I tend to get stuck on two soups in particular: sausage/lentil and split pea. Yes, heavy soups are appealing to me. I turn the split pea into a stew by adding potatoes and cutting up pieces of ham. I like to see lots of stuff floating around the liquid.

But soups can be filling if they're vegetable-based. I particularly like soups with broccoli and cauliflower. The recipe below can use either one. The original calls for heavy cream, light cream, or half-and-half. For those who want to lighten it, go ahead and use low-fat milk. There is not much you can do about the cheese unless you use reduced-calorie varieties. I admit to being suspicious about them and have never used them in a recipe. Not everything that is low-fat works.


Broccoli- or Cauliflower-Cheese Soup

1 pound broccoli or cauliflower, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 coups chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream, light cream, or half-and-half
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 tablespoon minced or pressed garlic
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, chopped
3 tablespoons minced fresh or canned jalapeno chilies, or to taste
1 cup freshly shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup freshly shredded Emmenthaler or Jarlsberg cheese
slivered baked ham for garnish

Place the broccoli or cauliflower in a steamer rack set over simmering water, cover, and steam until just tender, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat, rinse with cold water to sop the cooking and preserve color and drain. Chop finely and set aside.

In a soup pot or large, heavy saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over low heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the stock or broth and cream or half-and-half. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring or whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, in a saute pan or skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons butter over low heat. Add the onion and saute until soft but not golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, mushrooms, and chile and saute until the mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to the cream mixture. Add the broccoli or cauliflower and the cheeses and cook over low heat, stirring almost constantly, until cheese melts, about 5 minutes; do not allow to approach boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle into preheated bowls, garnish with the ham, and serve hot. Alternatively, pour into a container and refrigerate, uncovered, until cool, then tightly cover and store up to 3 days. Slowly reheat, stirring frequently to keep cheese from curdling, before garnishing and serving.

Serves 6 to 8 as a soup course, or 3 or 4 as a main dish.

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