There are few dishes that I crave constantly and enjoy more than a delicious bowl of homemade soup.
Soups are always in season. They can be one of the most comforting, sometimes complex and simple meals that seem to always satisfy me. I can walk into any restaurant, no matter if it’s a diner, fancy tablecloth restaurant or a restaurant of ethnic cuisine, and if there’s soup on the menu, I’m usually going to have a bowl.
I remember as a kid, at least once a week, my mom as well as her mom, would make soups full of incredibly delicious and hearty ingredients. There seemed to always be tomatoes, onions, potatoes, carrots, other root veggies and a meat of some kind. They would contain seasonings that were part of their deep Southern culture. The bowl might contain some type of pasta or rice. I think that might have been the beginning of my love for soups.
When I was in culinary school, everyone seemed to dread the Soups and Sauces class that was mandatory to take in order to graduate. There were soups of every type to create: cold soups, hot soups, clear soups, creamy soups and chunky soups. You name it; we made it. That’s why it was my favorite class. I was never bored!
Over the years, I’ve created some pretty spectacular soups, if I may say so myself. One of my favorite soups that I made last summer was my White Peach Gazpacho. It contained a puree of white peaches, a bit of champagne vinegar, hint of espelette chili pepper, diced cucumbers and red peppers, chopped cilantro and toasted buttery brioche croutons. Nothing better on a hot summer’s evening, preferably on a comfortable back porch deck, overlooking a beautiful garden.
Another favorite is Mexican Fideo Soup. Nothing makes me happier than a bowl of this soup. If you know me, you know my love for the country Mexico and it’s many varied and regional cuisines. This one comes from central Mexico. It is made with fideo noodles that are very similar to Vermicelli noodles. These can be purchased at any Mexican grocery store or in the ethnic aisle of most grocery stores. The noodles are toasted in vegetable oil in a heavy pot, until they’re a dark golden brown. Next you add a ¼ of a finely diced onion. Sauté the onion until it’s soft and barely translucent. A minced garlic clove is then added and stirred in the pot until you get a whiff of the smell of the garlic. Add a couple of tablespoons of a decent tomato puree or crushed tomatoes. Let that roast in the pot for about 30 seconds, then its time to add your broth. It is then finished with chicken stock, homemade or store bought, and simmered until the noodles are softened.
I tried something new for a recent dinner party. I made a shrimp stock and substituted it for the chicken stock. In a heavy pot, I took some shrimp shells, a celery stalk that had been diced, ¼ of an onion chopped, ½ of a carrot diced, 6 cups of water and 5 black peppercorns. I brought all the ingredients to a boil and than turned the flame on the stove down to a simmer. I let the stock simmer for at least a half hour. Using a fine mesh sieve, I strained all the ingredients in a large heatproof bowl. Now you’ve got a very tasty shrimp stock. Once you add your stock to the toasted fideo noodles, onion, garlic, and tomato puree, bring to a boil and then turn the flame down to a simmer. Simmer the soup mixture for 15 minutes. At that point I added shelled and deveined shrimp and cooked until the shrimp went from opaque to pink. Ladle into a bowl and top with some Mexican Cotija cheese, maybe a bit of chopped cilantro and you’ve got a really delicious soup. Fideo is one of my absolute favorites, whether its made with chicken stock or a homemade shrimp stock.
On to Stews
Dictionary.com defines a stew as a preparation of meat, fish or other food cooked by stewing, especially a mixture of meat and vegetables. Or in other words, a dish of meat and vegetables cooked slowly in liquid in a closed pan.
I love stews! Nothing says fall or winter to me like a great beef stew, but I also love a really great fish or seafood stew.
A few years ago, I made a very special meal for my friend’s birthday including an Italian seafood stew called Cioppino. It contained, clams, mussels, scallops, shrimp, pieces of halibut, lobster meat and crabmeat. This cornucopia of the sea is then stewed in a rich savory seafood broth that was made from diced fennel, onion, carrots, celery, fish bones and shrimp shells. After simmering on the stove for at least an hour, it is strained through a fine mesh sieve. This broth was then used as the base for my Cioppino. After ladling into large soup bowls, I topped the seafood stew with a basil garlic puree and to accompany each bowl I placed on the edge of the Cioppino one crostini with anchovy butter and another one with red stamp pepper, smoky paprika and honey.
No kidding, this was probably one of my all time favorite dinner party meals. It was impressive, gorgeous, delicious and something truly special for my friend’s birthday dinner.
A hearty and meaty bowl of chili is another one of those fall-winter dishes that I really look forward to. Here’s the interesting thing about chili. Chili can be considered either a soup or a stew. So when you’re eating a bowl of chili, you’re actually getting the best of both worlds.
The thing I love about chili is that it can be made with a variety of ingredients: chicken, beef, turkey, vegetables, beans of every kind, tomatoes, peppers, dried chiles and spices. It’s probably one of the most versatile soups/stews out there.
Chili garnishes can vary as well. I myself enjoy a couple of different types of shredded cheeses, some chopped scallions, cilantro, Mexican crema and my favorite topping, oyster crackers. My goal one day is to make my own oyster crackers. A daunting task I’m sure, but one that I’m determined to try.
Soup is on the menu in several of our classes at The Chopping Block. One of my favorites is our recipe for White Bean and Chard Soup with Sage.
It’s a soup with several ingredients, which contribute to the incredible taste components of the dish. There’s smokiness from crisped bacon, a bit of heat from red chili flakes, the crunch of a variety of sautéed vegetables, crushed tomatoes, red wine vinegar, vegetable or chicken stock, white beans, chard stems and leaves, finished off with some roughly chopped sage at the very end. This is a complex and hearty soup that also has a wonderful simple quality to it. After I’ve ladled the soup into a bowl. I usually finish this soup with a little grated Parmesan cheese.
I wanted to include the recipe in this blog because this is one of my favorite soups that I love to teach our students to make.
So whether it be a soup, stew or something that’s in between. Enjoy the many choices they offer, all with hearty ingredients, offering tons of warmth, comfort and flavor.
White Bean and Chard Soup with Sage
Yield: 6 servings
Active time: 30 minutes
Start to finish: 1 hour
2 bunches chard
1/4 pound bacon, cut into lardons
1 onion, medium dice
1 fennel bulb, medium dice
1 stalk celery, medium dice
1 carrot, peeled and cut into medium dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 cup white wine
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock, or more if needed
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Two 12-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons fresh sage, rough chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
- Cut the stems from the chard leaves; cut into medium dice and set aside. Cut the leaves into ribbons and reserve for later.
- Heat a large soup pot over medium-low heat and add the bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until just golden brown. Add the onions, fennel, celery, carrot and chard stems, and sauté until caramelized, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the garlic and chili flakes; cook an additional minute. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to remove the browned bits of fond.
- Mix in the tomatoes, chicken stock, bay leaf and vinegar. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add more stock if soup is too thick.
- Cook the soup, covered, until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.
- Add the chard leaves and beans to the soup, and cook until the chard leaves are tender, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Stir in the sage, and season with salt and pepper to taste.