Originally published in the Herald Sun 9/13/2012
When I was pregnant, and The Kid was just about done cooking, one of my oldest friends, Kiki, came to help the beached whale that was me, and to make sure Petey had food to eat, and clean boxers to wear.
While she was visiting we ate, a lot. One of our favorite things was to get a fresh baguette and a big hunk of brie, and eat until the bread was gone, or we passed out, whichever came first.
One evening, for a change of pace, and some actual nutrition, Kiki decided to make us cream of mushroom soup, with a big salad.
At this point, the only cream of mushroom soup I had any familiarity with was the gray slimy glop in the can. And then, only as an ingredient in a casserole.
But Kiki had been to culinary school, knew what she was doing, and promised me the soup would be yummy.
In about thirty minutes, I waddled out to the kitchen to taste.
It was rich, creamy, and redolent of caramelized mushrooms, chardonnay, and thyme. I was a convert.
The best part of all was that my friend assured me that the soup was a breeze to make.
A few years later, I picked up a copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook at the Durham library book sale.
Leafing through it, I saw a recipe for asparagus sauce. It wasn’t a sauce for the vegetable, but a sauce made with asparagus, to serve on chicken, or fish.
Since it was in season, and there were tons of gorgeous ‘goose’ (Kid-speak for the spears) available, I decided to give it a whirl.
It was basically asparagus, sautéed with some onion, then pureed with water.
It was pretty darn awful.
So, there I am, standing in the kitchen, staring down at a big pot of beautiful, yet inedible sauce.
Then I remembered Kiki’s soup. So, I put in some chicken stock, and added some heavy cream.
I don’t know exactly what happened to it, but that pot of yucky sauce turned into a pot of silky, delicious cream of asparagus soup.
That was the day I figured out cream soups.
It’s less a recipe and more of a technique. You can use any vegetable you’d like. If you buy what’s in season, you’ll get the freshest, cheapest veggies.
For the directions, I’ll use broccoli.
2 heads fresh broccoli cut into florets
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 Tbl butter
½ cup white wine
2 ½ cups low sodium chicken stock
1 ½ cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbl snipped chives or chopped parsley
Blonde roux (equal parts butter and flour cooked on low until lightly browned)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Holding back two cups florets, sauté broccoli and onion in butter, until onions turn translucent. Add wine, and let reduce until almost dry (called “au sec”; pronounced “oh seck”).
In a food processor or blender, purée cooked veg, adding a little of the stock to keep it loose enough to blend. Pour this back into your soup pot.
Add the rest of the stock and the cream.
To thicken the soup (you may not want to, but I like mine so thick a spoon almost stands up in it):
If you are using roux, allow the soup to come to a boil, and stir in roux until it is the thickness you like,
For the cheese, you want the soup below a simmer, not boiling, or it will separate and get grainy. Slowly whisk the cheddar in, a bit at a time, letting it melt completely before adding more to the pot.
Check for seasoning, and add the raw florets. When the raw broc has cooked in the soup for ten minutes or so, it’s ready.
Spoon into mugs and garnish top with chives or parsley.
The neat thing about this soup is that you can get really creative.
Using carrots? Garnish with chopped crispy bacon, and add a little cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg (Don’t use the pre-ground canned nutmeg. It lost all the volatile oils, and flavor long before it reached the grocery shelf.)
Trying to make a mushroom soup as good as Kiki’s? Add fresh thyme, and maybe a bit of rosemary. And next time you make a recipe calling for cream of mushroom soup, you can use your own, homemade ambrosia, instead of that can.
Really, any veggy that catches your eye in the market will work, even a leafy veg, like spinach or cabbage. Just remember, if you choose hard vegetables like potatoes, or a fall squash, chop them a bit smaller, and par boil or toss them in a little olive oil and salt and pepper and roast them at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes so they won’t have to cook from a raw state in the soup (which will take forever).
On a cool, rainy day, there’s nothing better than a grilled cheese sandwich and a mug of warm soup.
Actually, there is.
A grilled cheese sandwich and a mug of warm, homemade soup.
Thanks for your time.