Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Simple Soup

Yummy soup
In fall, as the weather cools,[1] thoughts turn to a nice warming soup. I know that soup is one of those things that people just don’t think about cooking. Personally, I know that I need to trot out bowls of soup on more occasions, especially because it’s so easy. It’s also something you can do ahead. Make it the day before you want it, if you can plan things out.

A few days ago, the supermarket had some beautiful mushrooms. They were plain old crimini—brown mushrooms. You could use just about any sort of mushroom for this, though white mushrooms won’t have as much flavor, and morels would get somewhat expensive.[2] It was clear we needed to make a soup. In some ways, being reminded that the ingredients for soup are at hand is the biggest hurdle.

Seeing this makes me think soup
I should also note here that this isn’t so much a recipe for a particular soup (mushroom soup, as hinted in the previous paragraph), but like the concept of soup. I am reminded of a science fiction story in which the protagonist sells “paint” to an alien civilization, not actual buckets, but the concept of pigment suspended in a binder.[3] So I’m not selling soup today, but “soup,” the very concept, flavorful stuff in a liquid. Of course, with a food processor, blender, or stick blender[4] you can (somewhat) disguise the ingredients in your soup and have them suspended in liquid (like paint, but delicious and good for you[5]).

The Ground Rules.
Take some vegetative material. Cook it in a fat until it softens and releases liquid. Simmer it in a (flavorful) liquid. Eat it.

All else is just getting fancy. I watched an old episode of the French Chef in which Julia Child made potage parmentier, which sounds really fancy, but is in fact a rustic soup. Julia used water. You get a much nicer result if you use stock. You can use vegetable or chicken stock. Mark Bittman says you can use fish or beef stock, but I’m unpersuaded. It takes some special applications for either of those.[6] Leek and potato soup (to put potage parmentier into English):
Clean about 3 leeks, chopping the white and tender green parts.
Soften the vegetables by sweating them in olive oil, with a little salt. You can add butter for flavor.
Add about four cups chicken stock and about a half pound of potatoes, diced. Simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. You can puree this if you like, but you don’t have to. You can add milk or cream (4–6 tablespoons), or not. I like it chunky.
Chopped, so they cook quicker
The same is true of a mushroom soup. I chopped up the mushrooms, sweated them in olive oil with a little salt, adding a little butter for flavor. When the mushrooms were softened, I simmered it in four cups of chicken stock (homemade).[7] Then out came the stick blender. I was careful to keep the thing submerged (whenever it sucked in air, I stopped for a moment), and my fingers never went anywhere near the blades.[8] After a little work, the soup was a rich, thick broth. No need for cream.[9]

The whole thing was easy and delicious. As we move to cooler days, soup becomes a great idea. Good thing it’s easy.

And it's all done in the same pot.

  1. As I write this, here in Southern California it is sunny and 86°. It is fall though.  ↩
  2. If anyone’s willing to shell out the cost of two pounds of fresh morels, let me know; I might be willing to do the rest of the work on the soup.  ↩
  3. One of the great early inventions of humanity, which Wikipedia points out may be as old as 100,000 years.  ↩
  4. One of the more dangerous things you can have in your kitchen. The New York Times featured them in an article on kitchen accidents. Whirring blades of death that if they don’t take off a finger, can spray you with boiling liquid.  ↩
  5. Don’t eat paint. I’m sure there’s something in the kitchen.  ↩
  6. Chowders for the fish stock, of course, even those without any actual meat in them. The beef stock I would reserve for a hearty soup, but that’s not what I’m writing about today.  ↩
  7. If you skip the butter and use vegetable stock, this dish is vegan, but you never heard that from me.  ↩
  8. I pushed bits of mushroom off the opening, from the outer side, with a silicone spatula. Had I needed to do anything nearer the blades, I would have unplugged it first, or ejected the cutting head.  ↩
  9. Which still sits in my fridge.  ↩

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