Monday, July 12, 2010

Soup to the Rescue!
What’s cooking? Cream of Broccoli Soup

I really didn’t want to go grocery shopping yesterday, and we’d eaten the only frozen pizza we had a few nights ago; so once again, I was in a dinner quandary. The night before, I’d used up the zucchini and yellow squash and mushrooms in a throw-it-all-in pasta dish, and I shy away from the same sort of thing two nights in a row; so pasta was out. I had a package of chicken tamales in the freezer – one of the great benefits to living in Texas is that very good tamales are broadly available – but was still stuck for what to go with them.

It didn’t have to be Mexican food, I decided. But something not too spicy, to balance the tamale seasoning. In fact, my choices were what you would call extremely limited: to wit, one slightly sad head of broccoli. But I know what to do with veggies that are past their prime: it’s called SOUP. I checked out a couple of recipes and took what looked like the easiest one, which was also the one with the A that I noted at the top of the page. I winced slightly when I saw that my notes also said it takes 2½ hours, but overweening optimism won me over – surely, I can be faster than I was the last time. This is the sort of mindset that gets me into trouble.

Kitchen Goddess Tip: Life became a lot easier once I got past the Felix Unger pristine approach to cookbooks. So: TAKE NOTES. Grade a recipe the first time you make it, note how long it took, and if the garlic flavor is too strong or it needs more salt, write that down. These are the sorts of things you won’t remember – trust me.

For the broccoli soup, I started with the Culinary Institute’s Book of Soups, and adjusted to fit the ingredients at hand. The CIA called for a leek, which would have been lovely, but I didn’t have one. I discovered a fat shallot among my onions and threw it in along with a couple of tablespoons of chives from my garden. And I upped the amount of celery they suggested. I added a bit of butter (for flavor) to the vegetable sauté, and went a bit heavier on the lemon juice. The result was fabulous, and when I realized it was all going into the blender, I stopped obsessing over carefully chopped broccoli, so it took much less time. We had it hot with the tamales, and today, I ate it cold for lunch.

Cream of Broccoli Soup

1 pound broccoli
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ tablespoon butter
1 small onion, chopped (about ¾ cup)
1 medium shallot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped (about ½ cup)
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3½ cups chicken broth
¼ cup heavy cream, warmed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and white pepper to taste (you can use finely ground black pepper, but it’s not as pretty)

Trim the tough outer skin from the broccoli stems and set aside about ½ cup of the better looking small florets for garnish. Coarsely chop the rest of the broccoli – stems and florets. (Remember, this is a cream soup, so the whole thing is going into the blender. No need to be dainty about the broccoli cuts. Admittedly, the trimming will take some time.)

Heat the oil and butter over medium heat, add the broccoli, onion, celery, shallot, and chives. Cook, stirring frequently to coat all the veggies with the oil/butter, for 8-9 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the flour, stirring almost constantly to keep it from burning, for another 4 minutes.

Add the broth, whisking if necessary to eliminate chunks of flour, and simmer 45 mins, stirring occasionally. Make sure you scrape up and incorporate any flour residue that has stuck to the bottom of the pot. Toward the end of the 45 mins, steam or boil the reserved florets until tender and set them aside.

Purée the soup well (I run it a good 2 minutes), then add the cream and lemon juice and salt/pepper and blend again briefly. Serve immediately, garnished with the reserved florets. If you don’t want to serve it immediately, return it to the pot and reheat (do not boil) before serving. Or chill it for a couple of hours and serve cold. Serves 4.

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