I love this time of year. The brisk air hints at cozy evenings on the sofa, and something warm on the dinner table. Like soup.
Not the chilled gazpacho you enjoyed in July. I’m talking about the rich, gratifying warmth only a bowl of soup can bring as we enter the colder months. It’s amazing what a satisfying dinner soup can make, especially when served with crusty bread and a salad. Extremely nourishing. Economical, too. I just can’t say enough about it.
Growing up, I was treated to an amazing variety of soups. That’s just it about soups. There’s almost no end to the array of recipes for them. Of course, a good chicken soup is always the perfect place to begin. Recipes vary, but they always start with a plump, fresh chicken. Then you build…carrots, onions, celery, potatoes. Almost always present in American versions, with noodles or rice, of course. Add dill and parsnips if you’re going for a Jewish take. And don’t forget to serve with matzo balls or kreplach. Feeling Italian? Add canned plum tomatoes, parsley and a chunk of parmesan rind (it won’t melt as you simmer…promise!) When serving, add some pastina (small pastas like ditalini are perfect) and sprinkle with grated parmesan. Really good for what ails you.
Beef soup is outstanding, as well. I use short ribs. After enjoying the soup with noodles, I like to serve the ribs and potatoes (I leave them whole) with a side of salad. The meat falls off the bone and has an indescribable sweetness. A complete meal, for sure. You can also add barley to your beef soup, if you want something that really sticks to your ribs.
Vegetable soups really lend themselves to the economical chef. They’re also extremely nutritious. Varied, too. That’s to say that you can take almost any veggie combination and turn it into a satisfying bowl of steaming goodness. Start with a good minestrone, brimming with fresh peas, carrots, onions, beans, tomatoes, potatoes…you name it. Throw in a hand-full of pastina and you’ve got the consummate vegetable soup. I particularly like bean soups. From complex Cuban black bean to hearty Italian bean (pasta e fagioli) to smoky lentil or pea soups (the ham bone does the trick). All outstanding, I think. I also enjoy pureed soups. Potatoes and leaks form a good team in this arena. So do carrots and ginger. Add a touch of heavy cream if you’re daring enough. And speaking of cream, who doesn’t love a substantial bowl of New England clam chowder? I mean, really…does it get any better than that?
Now I couldn’t possibly mention every type of soup there is out there. I mean, I haven’t even touched upon Chinese wonton or Japanese miso. I just love them all. However, if I had to choose my all time favorite, I’d have to go with French onion soup. I’ve tasted so many – homemade as well as restaurant prepared. Some using roasted beef bones for the broth. Others depending on the caramelization of onions for the rich, brown color and depth of flavor. Doesn’t matter to me. They’re all exceptional. I believe the cheese is what really gets to me, though. Gooey, slightly browned. I especially love the bits that get stuck on the side of the crock. And what about the surprise within…a crusty (not so soggy, if it’s done correctly) piece of French bread. If that’s not a meal, I don’t know what is.
Chilly out tonight? Fill the pot with water or chicken stock and start simmering your own homemade soup. Plan ahead and shop for the ingredients. Or see what you have in the fridge and cupboard. Leftovers are allowed, you know. I mean, use the carcass of last night’s roasted chicken as a base, and create from there. So when the weather calls for soup, you’ll be prepared to answer with a wholesome bowl that will do you good. I think you’ll sleep better that night, too.
French Onion Soup Recipe
In case you’re already thinking about warding off the winter blues, I bring you the inimitable fragrant and hearty French onion soup. What could better warm your innards than a hot steaming crock of this soul warming ambrosia? Just imagine the creamy melted cheese spilling over the rim of the crock, the crunchy round of French bread underneath and the oniony aroma filling your nostrils.
Now it’s only fair to tell you up front it does take a bit of time to achieve this luscious result. I obviously think it’s worth it. If you want the real thing, prepare to spend a little time in the kitchen keeping an eye on it and stirring from time to time. You can make other preparations at the same time, but don’t leave the kitchen for too long.
3 strips bacon
½ stick butter (4 oz.)
3 lbs. yellow onions, peeled and sliced thin
1 t salt*
½ t freshly ground black pepper
2 t sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T flour
4 cups chicken stock, homemade or canned*
4 cups water
1 cup dry white wine
½ cup Cognac or brandy
1 T balsamic vinegar
Sprig of fresh thyme
1 Mediterranean bay leaf
Sprig of parsley
1 t Worcestershire sauce
½ t hot pepper sauce
6 slices dry French baguette slices, toasted
1 lb. Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated
In a large Dutch oven, sauté bacon over low heat until crisp. Remove bacon strips and add butter to bacon fat. Add the onions and cook slowly about 10 minutes. Stir in the salt, pepper, and sugar and increase the heat to medium. Stir mixture from time to time until the onions turn to a deep amber color, about 90 minutes. If they begin to stick to the bottom of the pot, stir in a little water or white wine. Add garlic.
Sprinkle on flour, stir and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add stock, slowly stirring in the first 2 cups and then adding the rest of the stock and water. Bring to a simmer and add wine, Cognac, and vinegar. Tuck in thyme, bay leaf and parsley tied in a bouquet garni of washed cheesecloth. Add Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce and simmer for 30 minutes, covered loosely.
Remove bouquet garni and taste for seasoning. Add salt if necessary. Fill 6 ovenproof crocks, place toasted baguette slices on top and sprinkle generously with cheese. Set crocks on a metal cookie sheet and place under broiler until cheese is melted. Makes 6 servings.
*If using canned chicken broth, don’t add salt.
Photographer Bill Brady <a href=”http://bit.ly/9wFYxm” target=”_blank”>http://bit.ly/9wFYxm</a>Written by Victor Ribaudo <a href=”http://theribaudogroup.com” target=”_blank”>theribaudogroup.com</a> theribaudogroup.comRecipe Provided by Phyllis Kirigin, aka sweetpaprika <a href=”http://sweetpaprika.wordpress.com” target=”_blank”>http://sweetpaprika.wordpress.com</a> http://sweetpaprika.wordpress.comFood Stylist <a href=”http://www.preston-campbell.com” target=”_blank”>Brian Preston Campbell</a>Blog syndicated at the datingsymbol.com <a href=”http://datingsymbol.com/” target=”_blank”>http://datingsymbol.com/</a>http://datingsymbol.com/