Soup is so appealing in the winter, and as I embark upon a cleansing diet to make up for holidays and vacation power-eating, I am inspired by the benefits of eating freshly made soups.
More encouragement came last evening at friends for dinner. The first course was a delicious Tomato-Basil soup that I would not have thought to make in the middle of winter. It was absolutely great and I find myself modifying one of my guiding principlesâ€”â€œeat only in season,â€ to say, as in this case, use canned tomatoes that were organically grown and canned in their season somewhere! And making another exception for the fresh basil from CA, I am ready to say I would repeat this one any season. I know for some restaurants, tomato basil soup is actually a staple all year round, and what keeps it consistent is the canned tomato product!
Our hostess graciously dictated over the phone what she had done to make the soup, as she had not used a recipe. She winged it! Good for her! Cooking without recipes is the sign of a confident cook. She did something key to her success that really made a difference with her soup. She roasted the canned organic tomato paste in a little butter on top of the stove to caramelize it. With Marniâ€™s permission, I have included the recipe here exactly as dictated.
For the remainder of this article I thought I would offer a basic recipe for a simple stock soup base, from which to create different soups by varying the add-ins, such as winter root vegetables and hearty grains such as barley, Farro, and beans. There are no set rules for the add-ins; simply experiment with the combinations I recommend in the recipe or wing it and make it totally yours.
Quick two-step stock making is not only easy it is efficient because in our busy lives, cooking for more than one use is a great timesaver. I am also suggesting chicken stock because it is so versatile, and easily creates the basis for two or more meals.
I am learning that that in most busy households today cooks do not roast chicken bones and make stock the old fashioned way, but before you grab the commercial stock, consider the quick chicken stock that starts with a whole chicken as in my recipe. It takes only an hour or so, saving time and money, especially when you consider whole chicken prices compared to the same chicken cut-up.
Donâ€™t leave it whole as smaller pieces release flavors faster into the liquid. Donâ€™t worry about the proper way to cut it up. Just cut through the bones and all if you want, leaving the two breast halves in tack as much as possible for secondary use. What makes the stock richly colored and flavored in a relative short time is the braising of the chicken pieces before adding the rest of the liquid. Braising creates browning or caramelizing, intensifying the flavors. Be sure to retrieve the chicken breast-halves first, after about 30-minutes, and cool them for another meal. (De-bone the breast and throw the bones back into the pot if you want as they still have more flavors to give up into the stock). Add the boiling water and simmer about an hour in total. Remove the remaining chicken pieces and strain the liquid. You can throw away the mirepoix of veggies with the bones, because they may have some bone fragments and they are usually pretty flavorless by now.
After straining stock through a fine sieve, I usually quick chill it to skim off the solid fat, and then divide the liquid stock into 2 smaller portions. Freeze one half immediately for later use as a base for a quick sauce, another soup or the liquid in a risotto. Simmer the remaining half and add in one of the finishing touches as recommended in my recipe.
People tell me they like making enough soup to have leftovers. But when reheated the vegetables and grains, and especially noodles, tend to overcook and become mushy. One way to keep leftover soup fresh is by borrowing the concept of Vietnamese pho-bac, where fresh cooked vegetables and meats are placed in a warm bowls and covered with the steaming hot broth. A basic chicken broth keeps much better than full-on soup, so use only small amounts at a time. For chicken noodle soup or other pasta soups, hold out the pasta until the last minutes of cooking, and only make what you need for the one meal. Change out the vegetables and meats and you have a completely new fresh soup with the same chicken broth!
Here are a few more soup making techniques worth considering:
Cut vegetables uniformly so they cook at the same rate. If you prefer a variety of cuts (julienne, dice, or even rough-cut), blanch them separately so they all have the same finish cook time together.
Mirepoix is a traditional flavoring trinity that consists of 2 parts onion and one part each carrot and celery, and should be cut into small dice for my quicker stock described here.
Bouquet garni is a spice pouch made by laying fresh +/or dried herbs and spices onto cheesecloth or a coffee filter, then tying the bundle with kitchen twine. Drop the pouch into the soup, tying the other end of the string to the handle of the pot for easy removal.
Stock, stews, braises are easily defatted by quickly chilling the cooked product allowing the fat to rise to the top. When solid it is easily removed, as desired.
Beef Broth can be very mild made traditionally from roasted bones. To get real beefy flavor be sure to use meaty, bone-in, tougher cuts of beef (shank or chuck) and braise the beef first before covering with water to extract the flavors into the broth.
To thicken soups and stews without roux, puree the mirepoix into the liquid, then add in freshly blanched vegetables.
Pureeing soup can be accomplished by using a stick blender or bar blender. I prefer these to the food processor, which often leaks or spills over.
Carefully salt soups remembering that as soup simmers, water evaporates and concentrates and intensifies flavors. Be especially aware when using cured meats such as bacon in soups.
For Italian soups, especially tomato based, add the leftover rind of good aged parmesan or Romano cheese; it adds flavor and makes the cheese go farther.
Two-step SOUP Step 1. Soup Base
1 whole chicken, cut up small pieces
Mirepoix: 1 onion, 1 celery rib, 1 carrot, rough chopped
EVOO as needed
1 bouquet garni consisting of 1 bay leaf, 2 sprigs thyme, 4-6 parsley stems, 2-4 white peppercorns.
1 tsp salt
3 quarts boiling water
Method: Brown chicken pieces and mirepoix in hot Dutch oven in EVOO. When brown, add about 1-3 cups of water (do not cover chicken) and continue braising the chicken for 30 min. Remove chicken breast meat, de-bone, return bones to the pot, and chill breast meat for another use. Add the rest of the water to the pot with the bouquet garni. Simmer 30 â€“ 45 more minutes. Remove large pieces of chicken and bone, reserve. Strain liquid broth through a fine mesh sieve. Chill broth until fat rises to the top and is easily removed. Pick through chicken and bones when cool, and remove just the meat; chill until needed. Discard bones, skin, bouquet garni and scraps.
To finish base:
2 TBS EVOO2 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 celery, diced
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
Method: Heat oil in dutch oven. Add & sautÃ© onions, carrots, and celery until vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking. Add quick broth (reserved above), bring to a simmer, and simmer 1 to 2 minutes. Cool half of this base in shallow metal pan in the refrigerator then freeze for another use. Finish the soup in the dutch oven with one of the following suggestions.
Step 2: SOUP SUGGESTIONS added to 1-quart simmering soup base
A. Chicken Noodle:
2 cup picked chicken reserved from step 1, chopped
2 cups cooked egg noodles
2 TBS fresh parsley, chopped
Method: Add picked chicken from step 1 to the soup base. Add cooked noodles. Bring back to simmer and reheat thoroughly. Serve immediately; garnish with fresh chopped parsley.
B. Potato broccoli:
1 bunch fresh broccoli, trimmed, cut into small florets
2 large potatoes,
1â€cubes, peeled, cubed to 1â€
Sea salt, pepper, coriander to taste
EVOO as neededÂ¼ tsp pepper flakes, optional
Method: Add the potatoes to simmering soup base first 5 min. then add broccoli and cook until very tender but not mushy. Add seasonings to taste and pepper flakes if desired. Puree vegetables using bar blender in small batches. Taste and adjust seasonings; reheat if needed. Serve immediately hot, or chill and serve cold. Float small amount of EVOO on top.
C. Italian Sausage & Bean Soup:
Â½ # sautÃ©ed spicy Italian style ground sausage
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
3 cups ribbon cut Swiss chard, ribs removedSeason with sea salt, pepper and coriander
Method: Brown sausage; add to reserved hot soup base. Add beans and bring to simmer. Add swiss chard and cooked additional 10 minutes until chard is bright green and tender. Garnish with grated aged parmesan cheese, if desired.
Marni Postlewaitâ€™s Tomato-Basil Soup
1 onion, small dice,
2 celery, small dice,
1-2 carrot, small dice
EVOO as needed
2 TBS butter6 oz tomato paste
28 oz organic tomatoes in juice
Â¼ tsp. pepper flakes
1 large bunch basil, chopped
2 cup chicken broth, as needed
Â½ cup heavy cream + 2 TBS
Â½ tsp salt1 tsp sugar, if needed
Method: SautÃ© mirepoix in small amount of EVOO until tender. Remove from pan; reserve. Add butter to pan, add tomato paste and stir as it browns and caramelizes. Add tomatoes and juice, pepper flakes and reserved mirepoix. Add first heavy cream, 2 cups chicken stock a little at a time until desired flavor is reached. Set aside enough basil for garnish, and stir in the rest. Puree soup using a hand blender. Season with salt. If needed to reduce the acid of the tomato, add up to Â½ tsp sugar.At service, place soup in warm bowls, drizzle in a swirl of heavy cream and garnish with reserved basil. Serve immediately.