Cream soups are the perfect starter for a holiday dinner.
Rich, decadent, and velvety smooth, they make an opening statement that a truly sumptuous meal is to follow.
But the bonus is that cream soups are simple to make and can be relatively inexpensive, depending on the vegetable used.
“This is the time of year when the cold sets in, when you want something warm, comforting and filling, with a little more substance to it,” said chef Mark Kent, who teaches cooking at the University of Akron’s hospitality management program.
Kent said cream soups are easy to prepare: simmer a vegetable in stock until tender, puree, strain to remove any fibrous bits, and add cream and seasonings.
Some recipes use a thickening roux instead of cream, or a thickener such as flour and cream. Other recipes use puréed rice or potatoes instead of cream to lower the fat, or substitute half-and-half instead of heavy cream.
The basic preparation technique remains pretty much the same, despite the nuances of any particular recipe. Some recipes call for such aromatics as celery, carrots, and onions to be sauteed first, then simmered along with the vegetable, to increase the flavor of the soup.
Kent also noted that some vegetables, such as butternut squash, taste better when roasted first to bring out their sweetness and richness.
“It really adds an intense flavor and takes it to another level,” he said.
Some hard vegetables like winter squash or carrots are substantial enough when cooked to make a thick soup without adding cream.
However, cream soups, particularly when they are starting the meal, are intended to be served in small portions of one cup or less, so that also helps to keep the calories in check.
Kent cautioned that when making a cream soup, it is important to not add cold cream into hot purée, as it may curdle. Cool the purée first, or warm the cream, and “add the cream just before serving, if possible.”
Traditionally, cream soups are seasoned with salt and white pepper — not black pepper — so that the color of the soup is not marred by flecks of black, Kent said. But some recipes ignore this rule.
When working with inexpensive produce such as carrots or broccoli, a cream soup is a very affordable dish. However, a soup made from out-of-season produce or exotic ingredients — gourmet mushrooms, for example — can be more expensive to prepare.
Here are three easy cream soup recipes that would be a good starter for any meal.
Cream of Mushroom Soup
Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the chopped mushrooms, celery, and leek. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes.
Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 to 4 minutes.
Whisk in the broth gradually. Add the thyme sprig, bring to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a skillet. Add the sliced mushrooms and saute until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and reserve.
Remove and discard the thyme. Purée the soup, then strain through cheesecloth or a fine sieve. Return the soup to the pot and place over low heat. Add the heavy cream and season to taste with the lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Heat the soup, but do not boil.
Serve in heated bowls, garnished with the reserved cooked mushrooms.
Yield: 8 servings; Source: The Culinary Institute of America: The New Book of Soups
Cream of Broccoli Soup
Cook broccoli in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still bright green, about 5 minutes. Drain broccoli. Set aside 4 small florets for garnish.
Combine broth and 1 cup cream in heavy large saucepan and bring to boil. Working in batches, puree broccoli, broth mixture, and butter in blender until smooth, about 45 seconds per batch. Return puree to same pan. Season soup to taste with salt and white pepper. (Soup can be made up to 8 hours ahead. Cool slightly, cover and refrigerate.)
Bring soup to simmer, thinning with water if desired. Ladle soup into 4 bowls. Drizzle 1 teaspoon cream over each; garnish with reserved florets.
Yield: 4 servings; Source: www.epicurious.com
Preheat oven to 400°. Peel squash. Cut in half and remove seeds. Cut into cubes.
Toss with olive oil. Place on baking sheet and roast until squash is soft and slightly browned.
Process warm squash in a food processor until smooth.
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and cinnamon stick, and sauté until soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the chicken stock and the coriander, if using, and bring to a boil. Simmer for several minutes. Stir in the squash, then simmer gently to let the flavors meld, about 10 minutes. Discard the cinnamon stick.
Purée the soup in a blender until smooth. (The soup can be made ahead to this point, cooled, covered and refrigerated for several days, or frozen for about 1 month. It will thicken as it cools and may need thinning with stock or water when reheating.)
Return the soup to the pan and reheat gently. Add the half-and-half, if using. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Ladle the soup into serving bowls. Garnish with the pumpkin seeds, if desired.
Yield: 4 servings; Source: Adapted from www.foodnetwork.com