I like soup. It’s usually nothing particularly fancy or showy, but it’s comforting, warm and can be made in a pinch. With as little as 3 ingredients and about 30 minutes, there are so many delicious soup possibilities to make and enjoy. As fall and winter make their slow and steady ways back into our lives, and as we shut the windows tight against the chill, nothing sounds quite so nice as a warm and hearty bowl of homemade soup.
But which kind? There are clear consommes, pureed soups, chowders, hearty soups, cream soups, and bisques. (I’m not including stews- those deserve their own story!) My personal favorites are pureed soups. Pureeing vegetable soup produces a creamy and satisfying result without adding too much, if any, fat.
The steps are simple: Trim and chop an onion (if you have some celery, chop that too, into the same size pieces as your onion). See what’s in your crisper. Grab whatever veggie (cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, squash, etc.) you have that has been hanging out all week and put it to work. Trim the cauliflower (or what have you) into equal sized pieces. Heat up a large saucepan and throw in some olive oil or butter (or both!).
Sweat your onions and celery until tender and translucent, then add the cauliflower. Saute until you achieve just a bit of color, season with kosher salt and some fresh ground pepper and cover with chicken broth (or water in a pinch). Simmer until softened. Puree until smooth (or not- if you want it chunky) and taste for seasoning. Add some more salt and pepper and add a dash of hot sauce and Worcestershire.
Serve with a crusty loaf of bread and, “Voila!” Dinner is served and dollars are saved. I think I charmed my now husband by whipping up pot after pot of yummy after-work soups when we first started dating and had little money during one of the snowiest winters ever in New York City.
Another great thing about soups is how adding just one little thing can make them feel so much more special. Do you have a strip of bacon? Chop it up and render out the fat to sauté your aromatics. It will give your soup a delicious smoky flavor (and, say it with me, everything is better with bacon). Add a touch of cream for some decadence or maybe a teaspoon or two of curry powder for a spicy exotic flair. Try a splash of white wine just before serving for another layer of flavor. Do you have a half-stale baguette leftover from your last dinner party? Chop it into cubes, toss with some olive oil and salt and pepper, and toast for a few croutons (which are always best when they’re homemade).
Back at my first real restaurant job in Woodstock, NY, one of my main responsibilities was creating and prepping the daily soup specials. My job was essentially to find usable scraps of this, that, or the other thing that was left over and lying around, then use it all to make a delicious and satisfying soup for our customers. It was truly one of my favorite tasks since it taught me creativity, seasonality, frugality and a respect for ingredients.
I remember the apple cider butternut squash bisque that sold out only an hour into dinner service as being one of my proudest moments as a blossoming young chef. To this day, I make this soup every Thanksgiving, and it’s still every bit as popular with my family as it was with those restaurant guests so many years ago.
APPLE CIDER BUTTERNUT SQUASH BISQUE
Yield: 6 servings
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 small Granny Smith apple, peeled and chopped
1 3/4 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (5 cups)
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup apple cider
¼ cup heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Heat a large heavy bottomed saucepan over moderate heat. Add butter to melt.
Cook the onion, apple, garlic, and ginger, until the onion and apple is softened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add squash, stock, cider and simmer, uncovered, until squash is very tender, about 20-25 minutes.
Purée soup with an immersion or hand blender until very smooth. Stir in heavy cream and warm until hot. Taste for seasoning. Add some more salt and pepper, if needed.
Additional Soup Notes from the Author: To make sure your ingredients cook evenly, cut them all the same size, and stagger the cooking times for different veggies(for example a carrot takes longer to cook than celery). Also, season as you cook! Just seasoning soups at the end of cooking usually produces an uneven saltiness with little taste showing through. Third, don’t over-simmer your soup for long, unnecessary hours on the stove-top, as the flavor will become flat and dull. And lastly, add a splash of lemon juice, vinegar, or hot sauce and Worcestershire at the end of cooking to brighten up the flavor.
Brianna Beaudry lives in Venice Beach, California, with her husband, Alex, and their pug, Butter. She has worked as the culinary producer on the Food Network hit shows Paula’s Party, Paula’s Home Cooking, Paula’s Best Dishes, and Down Home With the Neelys. Yankee by birth, Californian by circumstance, but Southern at heart, what Brianna loves most is cooking delicious food and making it look pretty.