There wasn't a day during last week's wintry weather when a pot of soup on the stove wouldn't have been satisfying.
Not only does soup warm and nourish the body, it brings comfort during a long day.
Homemade soup always reminds me of my grandmother, who was a terrific cook. Even in her 70s and 80s, if she had leftover vegetables - say, broccoli, spinach, or asparagus - she would mash the vegetables, make a cream sauce, combine the two and thin with milk or cream, and make a cream soup. That was my introduction to cream of broccoli, cream of spinach, and cream of asparagus soups. As a youngster, I may have not liked those veggies, but the soups were pretty good. My grandmother was ahead of her time.
Not only can leftovers create soup, many convenience ingredients lend themselves to soup recipes. Making homemade soup can be as simple as buying the ingredients and making the soup the evening before you want to serve it (to be reheated the next day) or in the morning before you go to work.
The variety of soups will introduce new vegetables, flavors, and ingredients.
For example, Pasta Fagioli is often seen on menus in Italian restaurants. It can be as spicy or as natural in flavor as desired. Best of all, it can be made with basic pantry ingredients.
Pasta Fagioli , traditionally a soup of pasta, beans, vegetables, and pork flavored with garlic and olive oil, is a hearty soup. Some recipes use pancetta (Italian bacon cured with salt and spices) in place of pork. In the Complete Book of Soups and Stews (Simon & Schuster, $30), author Bernard Clayton, Jr., says that Pasta Fagioli made with the usual roast pork comes from Naples; the version with pancetta comes from northern Lombardy in Italy.
A simpler version created by Italian cooking teacher Giuliano Hazan for Bush's Best company did not include pork; a beef bouillon cube (or chicken or vegetable cube) is dissolved in four cups of water. This is a wonderful, fast, and easy recipe made with cannellini beans, which are white Italian kidney beans.
Seafood soups are excellent sources of protein, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in all seafood - fresh, frozen, canned, and processed. The richest are ocean fish such as salmon and tuna, according to the National Fisheries Institute.
Lobster Bisque is a local favorite seen on menus such as Georgio's Cafe International downtown, and it has been added as a permanent item to Red Lobster's menus nationwide. Another favorite is New England Clam Chowder, a thick, rich soup made with milk or cream and often flavored with salt pork.
Asian Noodle and Seafood Soup is a less-rich way to add seafood to your diet. This recipe uses 1/2 pound squid, cleaned and cut into rings, plus eight ounces of crab-flavored surimi seafood.
At this time of the year in Toledo, frozen squid from China is available. The Blade's recipe tester, Kay Lynne Schaller, says she found a one-pound bag for $4.79 at Giant Eagle, and the squid was already cleaned and cut into rings. (Rohr's Seafood also had a 2.5-pound bag of frozen squid priced at $9.95. Use what you need, reseal the bag, and return the rest to the freezer. Owner Tom Chipps reminded me that he sells fresh squid at the holidays and for special orders.)
"It was fast and easy," Ms. Schaller said. It's also a great recipe to serve during the two weeks of the Chinese New Year.
When fresh squid is available, it is important to know that squid is almost pure muscle, with little fat. It cooks very quickly and thus can be overcooked. It should be a silky texture compared to being very firm. "Squid should either be cooked very quickly or stewed or braised until tender; otherwise they will be rubbery and chewy," writes Carolyn Miller in Williams-Sonoma Seafood (Simon & Schuster, $16.95). Some advise cooking less than a minute or more than 20 minutes.
If the recipe calls for rings, slice the squid body crosswise.
A pot of soup is always great to serve friends and family members when they come indoors after skiing or skating.
If you stocked up on broccoli last week (one supermarket advertised 10 pounds broccoli crowns for $10), Sally Sampson's recipe for Cream of Broccoli Soup using three pounds of broccoli is just what you need. The recipe, which yields 18 cups of soup, starts with fresh or frozen broccoli.
The technique for the recipe in From Warehouse to Your House (Simon & Schuster, $15) recommends the cooked broccoli be placed in a food processor or blender until smooth. It's such a pretty green color that it's easy to forget that this is broccoli soup. Leave about a cup of broccoli pieces for texture. This helps guests identify the soup immediately, lest they think it is pea soup.
(If you don't have a hungry gang to feed, this soup also may be frozen in single-bowl batches for rainy days or cold evenings. Freeze soup in containers, or to save space, the soup may be frozen flat in resealable plastic bags.)
When a party menu - buffet or grazing - includes soup that doesn't need a spoon, serve the soup in cups for ease of handling. For a sophisticated soup party menu, serve two or three soups - the Cream of Broccoli, Lobster Bisque, and maybe a tomato basil soup - in shot glasses. If not super hot, it's easy to drink, and the empty glasses may be easily placed on a tray and collected. Plus, it gives each guest a taste of all three soups.
My grandmother never used a food processor. She mashed the broccoli (and other green vegetables) with a fork. We ate the soup with a spoon until the bowl was empty.
But she had a European style of cooking that was way ahead of her time. The flavor was magnificent. The texture was creamy. Homemade soup is timeless: It has the makings of memories.
Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor.
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