Soup’s On

Corn soup. Photo by Dan Kacvinski

The only soups I remember from my childhood are chicken soup and cabbage borscht. But that changed when I got married. My husband, Marvin, loves making soup. When I hear him rattling the pots and pans and using the blender, I know he is making soup.

Soup is my favorite comfort food. It can have as few as three ingredients — the best results come from the quality of the ingredients and the use of ripe vegetables. Onions provide more than just flavor; they form a base that acts as a catalyst for any protein.

Making soup is easy. It requires very little special equipment and can be served in a mug, bowl or even in an espresso or cappuccino cup with a small spoon. It may be served as a snack, an accompaniment for a sandwich, at the beginning of the meal, as a main course or as the entire meal.
When on vacation in Italy, we visit the daily open market — our favorite is in the small Tuscan village of San Casciano, outside Florence. One family has a stand that sells only Parmesan cheese, and when the young son with light blue eyes looks up at his patrons after cutting off a piece of cheese for them, he always asks if they would like some of the outside rind. He explains that when added to a vegetable soup during the cooking, it lends a delicious flavor.

Tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, celery, turnips, parsnips, zucchini, onion, leeks, corn and cabbage are some of the ingredients I use for soup, along with herbs such as rosemary, dill or fennel. Soup is fundamentally the most economical of foods, a means of making leftovers and scraps into a satisfying meal.

Soups, hot or chilled, become more intriguing and a festive presentation when garnished with olive oil, chopped vegetables, fresh-made salsa or grated cheese. Serve with crusty Italian peasant bread that is crisp on the outside, soft and warm inside.
Corn Soup

This recipe is for a dairy menu. For a pareve soup, use vegetable stock or water and nondairy margarine instead of butter.

2 large ears of corn (to yield 2 cups fresh corn kernels)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
1 onion, finely diced
2 cups milk or vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Salsa garnish (tomato, onion, cilantro)
Shuck the corn, cut the kernels off the cob, and set aside.

Melt butter in a pot; add onion and sauté 3 to 4 minutes until soft. Add milk and bring to a boil. Add corn kernels and simmer 5 to 10 minutes. Spoon onion mixture into a blender or a food processor and blend until desired consistency. Transfer to pot, add salt and pepper to taste and heat thoroughly. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with salsa.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Broccoli Soup
2 pounds fresh broccoli with stems
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place broccoli in a large pot and add water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer until broccoli is tender when pierced with a fork. Transfer broccoli to a large measuring cup or bowl and set aside. Reserve cooking liquid. Heat olive oil in a skillet and sauté onions and garlic until soft. In three batches, place broccoli with onion mixture and 2 or 3 ladles of cooking liquid in a blender or food processor. Blend until creamy. Pour broccoli mixture into a pot and continue blending with the remaining broccoli, onion mixture and cooking liquid.

Bring to a simmer, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve hot.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

NOTE: You may substitute cauliflower for broccoli for a delicious variation.

Ribollita (Twice-boiled Soup)
From “Italy Cooks” by Judy Zeidler
We became fans of Ribollita, which literally translates as “reboiled,” when we rented a house in Umbria from Italian artist Piero Dorazio and his cook served us this hearty soup. The Dorazios’ vegetable and herb garden made it easy to prepare large amounts of this classic dish for ourselves while we were staying at their villa. Whenever we were ready to have dinner we would simply reheat it. We purchased fresh bread daily, so we always had day-old bread available to thicken this soup.

1 to 1 1⁄2 cups dried cannellini beans or 3 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans
2 large leeks, white and green parts separated, washed thoroughly in cold water
1/4 cup olive oil
10 large leaves cavolo nero (or use kale, chard or spinach)
1⁄2 head red cabbage, thinly sliced
1 large tomato, diced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices day-old Italian bread, toasted and cubed
Olive oil for garnish
Grated Parmesan cheese

Soak the beans in a large bowl of cold water for at least two hours or overnight. Drain the beans and add to a stockpot, along with 4 cups of cold water; bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until beans are tender (at least 1 hour, depending on freshness of the beans), adding additional water as needed (about 4 more cups in all).

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium-size pot; add the sliced green part of leeks and boil until tender. Using a slotted spoon, transfer boiled leeks with a little of their liquid to a blender and blend until smooth; set aside. (Reserve the remaining liquid.)

Heat olive oil in a large pot; add thinly sliced white part of leeks and sauté over low heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Add liquid from boiled green leek tops and cook for 5 minutes. Add cavolo nero, red cabbage, diced tomato, thyme and leek puree. Bring to a simmer. Add drained beans and salt and pepper to taste; bring to a boil. (Add additional liquid if needed.) Cook, uncovered, until vegetables are tender and flavors are blended, about 20 minutes. Add bread cubes and cook 30 minutes longer.

To serve, ladle soup into heated bowls, top with a splash of fresh olive oil, and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

Makes about 8 to 10 servings.

Mushroom Barley Soup
The technique of sautéing all the ingredients before adding the stock brings out the intense mushroom flavor of this robust soup.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
3/4 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons pearl barley
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
1 tablespoon dry sherry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat; sauté onion, celery and carrots, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

Add stock, soy sauce, barley, thyme and sherry. Reduce heat to low, cover partially, and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. To serve, ladle into heated soup bowls.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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