Lewis Carroll perhaps said it best when in Alice in Wonderland he had the mock turtle sing a song about this ancient food:
“Beautiful soup, so rich and green
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!”
Soup, many believe, is one of the most ancient of food preparations. Prehistoric man made his soup by dropping red hot stones into lethern pots. Today we have evolved to the crock pot. But whether the source of heat is in the pot or around it soup is still being made, much to our great satisfaction. Nothing gives as much pleasure to hungry diners on a cold winter’s night as a steaming bowl of homemade soup. It also has the added advantage of helping us recycle all those little containers of leftovers that collect in our refrigerators and, if unused, grow more hair than an English sheep dog!
As to what goes in a soup we are limited only by our imaginations. One need only give a little thought to what the end result will be and remember that there are basically only three kinds of soup… thin clear soup, cream soup and thick heavy soup. The latter is very much akin to a stew, although in a stew the solids take precedence over the liquid.
The clear soup is best exemplified by either the old standby chicken soup or the Japanese suiji which is a stock made from dried bonito (tuna) shavings and konbu (seaweed). While the chicken soup is certainly tasty and nutritious the suiji is, in addition, a treat for the eye. A couple of pieces of artfully cut vegetables, a dumpling or a piece of seaweed are arranged to stimulate both our appetite and our aesthetic sense.
Cream of mushroom is perhaps the quintessential cream soup in this country, closely seconded by chowders of both the seafood and vegetable varieties. The last category, thick soups, are best represented by either minestrone or navy bean soup.
Cream soups, like the thick soups, are usually eaten as a one dish meal with crusty warm bread. The fruit soups of northern Europe, however, are taken cold as the first course in a multi-course meal. I remember a sublime cold cherry soup served as a first course at a dinner party for Stephen Sondheim at Lincoln Center in New York city. The pale pink color in the pristine white bowl with a dollop of sour cream floating on top was a feast for the eye… but nothing compared to the wonderfully subtle cherry and cream flavors of the soup itself.
Thick soups are a great place to be creative and let your imagaination run wild. Because of its complexity varieties of vegetables, meats and herbs are encouraged. Often starchy additions like beans or pasta, or both, are included to create a genuine one dish meal. In addition, the culinary tradition of the American South will use a nut-brown roux to enhance the flavor and richness of the soup.
This Cajun White Bean and Collard Greens Soup is one of my favorites. It is evocative of the hearty country style soups I grew up with as a child on our ranch here in the San Francisco East Bay. The roux added at the final cooking point is a Southern innovation that not only thickens the soup but also adds a wonderful nutty flavor. This recipe makes quite a lot but the soup is actually better made ahead and portioned. Reheating only improves the flavor.
Cajun White Bean and Collard Greens Soup
Bring to a boil in a large stockpot:
8 C (2 quarts) smoked turkey stock
1 lb Great Northern white beans
Boil for 3 minutes and allow the beans to soak in the hot liquid, covered, for 1 hour.
Chef’s Note: The stock we used was made from the carcass and legs of the smoked turkey prepared for our Thanksgiving dinner. To make homemade stock refer to “Rich Homemade Turkey Stock: The Nectar of the Gods!”. A rich chicken stock can be substituted in the preparation of this hearty soup.
2 large hamhocks, or 3 small
2 C smoked turkey stock
Bring to a boil then add:
2 medium yellow onions, coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, coarsely chopped
2 ribs celery, sliced
5 whole peeled garlic cloves, minced
2 rutabagas, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Chef’s Note: As you add the dried herbs to the pot rub them between the palms of your hands to bruise the leaves and release the fragrant essences.
Return to a boil, then reduce heat to a brisk simmer. Cover the pot and simmer for 1 hour. Add:
1 28-oz can peeled and diced tomatoes
3 T tomato paste
Return to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes, then add:
3 lb collard greens, coarsely chopped
6 C smoked turkey stock
Return to a boil then simmer for 30 additional minutes. Fifteen minutes into this simmering time period make the roux. Place a medium saucepan over medium heat and melt:
6 T lard
When the lard has melted add, while constantly whisking:
7 T all-purpose flour
Cook until the flour is well-browned, about the color of a pecan shell, approximately 7 – 10 minutes. Be mindful not to burn the flour!
This next step is a bit tricky. Remove the pan from the heat and add a couple full ladles of the soup liquid to the roux. Since the roux is very hot this addition will briskly bubble and steam. Be sure to quickly and thoroughly incorporate the liquid using both a whisk and a wooden spoon to lift the roux from the inside bottom edge of the saucepan. Add a couple more ladlesful of liquid, whisking the whole time, until the mixture is richly thick and bubbly:
Add this to the soup pot, scraping everything in with a rubber spatula. Blend well into the soup and continue to cook for an additional 15 minutes.
Wash and dry the saucepan. Fill it with with water and bring to a boil to cook the pasta. When boiling add:
1 T salt
8 oz tubetti
Cook the tubetti for 10 minutes. Drain and add to the soup pot:
Mix well to incorporate. Lift out the hamhocks and cut off the meat. Cut the meat into small pieces and return it to the pot, discarding the bones. Correct the seasonings and serve piping hot with a loaf of warmed crusty sourdough bread… Bon Appetit!
Copyright 2009 Via Aurea Designs, Inc., All Rights Reserved