Tag Archives: soup

Tuscan White Bean and Farro Soup

3 bowls 2We’re not really a big game-playing family. The one and only time I ever played a board game with my husband was early on in our relationship. We were on the same team for a friendly game of Trivial Pursuit. The category was sports and leisure and it was a baseball question, the only sport I know anything about. I got so excited that I knew the answer, I shouted it out. Unfortunately, it was the other team’s question. My husband declared a moratorium on game playing with me after that.

But, on a visit to see us in December, my youngest son started a game of tag, and it’s still going on. Sadly, he was playing tag with a wicked cold. He caught it first, passed it on to my husband, and now I am “it”, sneezing and coughing my way through January. Normally, when I’m sick, I lose my appetite, so I sort of got excited about being sick at the beginning of January. I figured this would be the perfect way to lose my December cookie weight. But this cold left me feeling ravenous. I couldn’t seem to eat enough to make me feel satisfied. I was craving carbs.one bowl 45°Soup seemed like the perfect remedy. Hot enough to soothe my sore throat and packed with lots of starchy things to make me feel full. This is my take on the classic Tuscan soup, Minestra di Faro Lucchese. (Farro soup in the style of Lucca). I used Mark Bittman’s New York Times recipe as my starting point and adapted slightly from there. mise en place I added a heaping tablespoon of tomato paste to the sauteed onions and celery, to really deepen the flavour of this soup. I also slipped in a big pinch of red pepper flakes. While spicy heat is not a typical addition to the classic recipe, my tastebuds were so dulled by my cold that I wanted the soup to really pack a punch of flavour. Plus, spicy food makes my nose run, so I figured that the soup would work to cleanse my sinuses. The final adaptation I made was the addition of a rind of Parmesan cheese to the simmering soup. I always save my rinds and keep them in the freezer in a zip-loc bag to add to soups and stews. serving soupThis soup does not fall under the “fast food” category. You need to soak the beans the night before. You could use canned beans, but I think that the texture would not be the same. The original recipe called for adding the farro and beans at the same time. I found that the beans needed at least 90 minutes of simmering to get tender, so I added the farro during the last 30 minutes of cooking, so that it would still retain some chew, the way I like it. I also waited and added the carrots at the end of the cooking time, rather than at the beginning with the celery and onions, so that they would not be too mushy.

Serve with lots of chopped Italian parsley and fresh basil for a hit of verdant freshness. Don’t forget the Parmesan cheese.

Click here to print recipe for Tuscan White Bean and Farro Soup.

1 bowl on grey napkin


The Perfect Cure for Feeling Spleenful: Broccoli Cheddar Soup.

soup 4 w cheddar 625 sqMy youngest son is a linguaphile. For those of you who are not linguaphiles, it means “a lover of languages and words.” I was visiting him a few weeks ago while he was playing his favourite vocabulary game, “Word Smart.” The word “spleenful” came up on the screen and when I asked him what it meant, he defined it as “bad-tempered or irritable.” What a great word! I could not wait to find an opportunity to work it into a conversation.

Then last week, around 10:30 p.m. on Monday night, I was going down the stairs in the dark. I misjudged where the last step was and I ended up crumbling to the floor. Fast forward to Tuesday at 3:00 am when we arrived home from the hospital.castI had broken 2 bones on the top of my foot. The doctor at the hospital told me I was very lucky the break was not at a joint, as they do not heal very well and most often result in arthritis complications. I was also very lucky that they chose to put an air cast on me, rather than a plaster cast. I can take this one off for showering. I must confess, using crutches is not my forte. I look like I am about to lurch forward and stumble with every step I take. I make my husband very nervous.  The cast has been on now for almost a week, and I must say I have had some “spleenful” moments.

I wanted some comfort food. For me, that means Broccoli Cheddar Soup. I still recall, with great fondness and longing, the Cheddar Broccoli Soup I ate at “Say Cheese in London Ontario, in the late 1970’s. Say Cheese was a restaurant and specialty cheese shop, located in downtown London, on Talbot Street, across from Covent Market. There was no other place in the city quite like it. They were known far and wide for their cheese soup, but I preferred the Broccoli Cheddar. For a student living away from home for the first time, that soup wrapped me up like a big hug from home. Sadly, the restaurant is no longer there.

The soup was a verdant green colour and had a pure broccoli flavour that wasn’t overpowered by cream or too much cheese. The cheddar was perfectly melted into the soup and the texture was so silky. Every few spoonful would yield some cheesy stringy bits when you pulled your spoon up for a mouthful. Definitely not a soup to order on a date, but perfect for lunch with your girlfriends! It was a touch spicy and just so fragrant.

For years afterward, I would order Broccoli Cheddar soup any time I saw it on a menu. I was always disappointed. These soups were various unappetizing shades of green-grey, and they had a strong sulphur odour. The cheese was usually grainy and not at all melted into the soup. Eventually I just stopped ordering it.

For some reason, I never thought of trying to recreate it at home. Then, last week Cook’s Illustrated dropped a recipe for Cheddar Broccoli Soup into my inbox. I was psyched! Cook’s has yet to let me down.

Since I am unable to bear weight on my left foot yet, I talked my husband and oldest son into being guest cook and photographer for this post. I perched myself on a barstool, at the counter, and chopped, diced and shredded, while calling out instructions to my sous chef. I knew we were in trouble when after reading step 1 in the recipe, “Heat butter in a large Dutch Oven over medium-high heat”, he pulled out the smallest saucepan in the cupboard. We had a quick lesson on what a Dutch Oven is and proceeded to step 2.dicing onionschopping broccolishredding cheddarshredding parm


pouring into blender 2Things were going swimmingly until we got to the part where it says to blend half the soup. We could not find the blender lid. My son, who is the rugged outdoors type, said no problem, we will improvise. He covered the blender with a plate. If you lose your blender lid, DO NOT , I repeat, DO NOT, attempt this solution.  It does not make an airtight seal. Enough said.

We found a mini-chopper languishing in the back of the cupboard and used that instead.mini blender 2Success! This soup took me right back to my youth. For a few minutes I was feeling anything but spleenful. Cook’s Illustrated has cracked the code! The magic, it seems, is to cook the living daylights out of the broccoli. Overcooking does produce that awful smell, but when you take it past the point of overcooked, the sulphur compounds breakdown, eradicating any bitterness, leaving behind the sweet and nutty flavour of broccoli. It takes almost an hour of cooking to get to that point, but Cook’s figured out a shortcut. Adding a mere ¼ teaspoon of baking soda helped the broccoli break down in about 20 minutes.

They solved the problem of the drab green grey appearance by adding some fresh baby spinach at the end of the cooking period. Some aged cheddar and finely grated Parmesan added the final bit of richness and flavour.

Click here to print recipe for Cheddar Broccoli Soup.

soup 3 w cheddar

The Chicks Fly the Coop and Chicken Tortilla Soup

When my oldest son left to go to University 5 years ago, I felt a deep sense of grief. I got so weepy every time I passed his empty bedroom that I had to shut the door. That sense of loss passed within a few weeks and we all got back to normal. Two years later, my middle child went off to Israel for a Gap year after high school. That sense of loss returned and I felt empty again. Her bedroom door also had to be closed, but this time the cause was mostly mess and not grief!  When my third child, the baby (now 19) moved out this past May, I followed him and moved in with him. No, I’m not making this up. I actually did sleep there for the first week. But that’s a story for another time!

Eventually I returned home. I must admit I enjoyed the sounds of silence in the house. However, it was short-lived. A week later, my middle one returned home from college for the summer.

But it is now September and all the chicks have flown the coop! I must admit that rather than feeling that deep sense of loss, I am filled with pride and joy in watching my kids make this transition successfully. That being said, when they all come home to visit, and the whole family is together under one roof, I just get that feeling that everything is good and right with the world. My friend Sharon says, that she sleeps better when all her little chicks are tucked in at home. I know just what she means.

For me, one of the biggest transitions has been learning to cook for just 2 people again. My husband will often come home and look at the big bowls and platters on the table and ask me who else is coming for dinner. One of my favourite strategies is to cook a roast chicken and eat half of it one night and then use the leftover in an entirely new way the next day. I will admit that even food writers get lazy and occasionally buy a Rotisserie chicken at the grocery store. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 

With half a roast chicken as leftovers you are well on your way to creating any number of delicious dinners. I found a fantastic recipe for Chicken Tortilla Soup in the Ottawa Citizen Food section (September 13). The recipe, posted by Laura Robin, was created by Foodland Ontario. . As with most soups, you start with some diced onions. In the spirit of September and back to school, here is a little onion dicing lesson.

Peppers, red bell and jalapeno, add sweetness and heat.

If field fresh tomatoes are available, use them, if not, go for canned italian plum tomatoes. There is a bit of prep work involved in using fresh tomatoes. They need to be blanched, peeled and diced. Remove the cores and cut a little “X” in the other end. Gently place them in boiling water for a minute and the skins will slip off easily.

Cumin, oregano and chipotle chili powder combine to give this soup its distinctive flavour. Once all the ingredients are chopped, the soup comes together in less than 30 minutes.  

Corn and diced cooked chicken get added during the last 5 minutes of cooking. A squeeze of lime juice gives the soup a fresh acidic vibe.

Finish off with some freshly chopped cilantro and a few tortilla chips for crunch! A perfect dinner all in one bowl.

Click here to print recipe for Chicken Tortilla Soup.

Andalusian Gazpacho Soup

I literally had a gazpacho soup epiphany the first time I ate this version of it. Thick, creamy, silky, tangy, and just pure tomato goodness. I have had versions of gazpacho where all the vegetables are pulsed together in the food processor, and I have always found the texture and flavour to be murky, reminding me more of  V8 cocktail juice, than of gazpacho soup.

This gazpacho soup was served to me several years ago, at a friend’s cottage on a girl’s weekend. When I asked her how she prepared it, she said it was  pureed tomatoes, thickened with bread soaked in a little water, olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic and cumin. This was classic gazpacho soup, prepared the Andalusian way. Andalusia is the Spanish town, where Gazpacho soup originated. I could not believe that these few simple ingredients created this astounding soup.

Now, I feel that I must disclose the event that immediately preceded the ingesting of this soup. It was a blustery day.

We all had afternoon naps and woke up feeling a little chilled, so we made a fire.  We were just beginning to prepare our cocktails, when the wind really started whipping around.  It came straight down the chimney and the cottage began to fill with smoke.  Within minutes the smoke alarm began its piercing cry and chaos ensued.  Our hostess managed to rip the smoke alarm from the wall and we opened windows and doors, but it wasn’t helping very much.

Someone suggested dousing the fire with water, but after much discussion, we decided that was a bad idea from a cleanup perspective.  Then someone suggested we use the fireplace tongs to lift the burning log, take it outside onto the deck, walk down the stairs and drop it into the lake.  This led to quite a discussion about safety.  The wind was really blowing and sparks from that log could fly off and begin a forest fire.

Finally, after about an hour and much coughing and choking, someone came up with the bright idea to use the fireplace tongs to lift the burning log, place it in a metal bucket and use that to carry it down to the lake.  All were agreed.  One person manned the tongs, the second person ran to get oven mitts (the bucket would be hot).  The third person wore the gloves and held the bucket and the fourth, opened the doors to the deck.  Mission accomplished.  The burning log was deposited safely in the lake.

Now I want you to know that we are all intelligent women, quite accomplished in our various fields, but as you may have surmised, not one of us earned a fire safety badge in Girl Scouts. However, this story perfectly demonstrates the ability women have to work together as a team to accomplish great things, like clearing a house from smoke so the cocktail hour could properly begin! After a few glasses of wine, we sat down to dinner and this gazpacho soup.

When I reflected back on the weekend, I surmised that perhaps all the excitement and wine had played tricks on my mind. There was no way that this soup was really that incredible. So I got the recipe from my friend and made it myself.

The beauty of this soup is that there is no need to peel or seed the tomatoes. Fresh ripe summer tomatoes are quartered.

Into the blender they go with a piece of baguette soaked in water, olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt, garlic and cumin.

After pureeing, the soup is poured through a sieve.

Chill and serve! While the soup is delicious as is, I love a little bit of crunch added, so I toasted up some tiny croutons and diced some cucumber and peppers.

Yes, the soup was just as delicious as I remembered.

Deeply flavourful and complex. The small amount of bread really thickened the soup and the olive oil created an emulsion that contributed to the soup’s silky texture.

Click here to print the recipe for Classic Andalusian Gazpacho Soup.

Smoky Corn Chowder

Warning… I’m going to rant like an old person, about the good old days, when you could count on certain things to same. When companies built things to last and when product consistency was a highly regarded value.  Don’t you just hate it when companies change a product, when it was perfect already. Then they go and slap a “new and improved” label on it and when I try it, I discover that the improvement has actually made the product worse, not better. Why do they insist on tinkering with something when it isn’t broken. I am referring, specifically, to Imagine Organic Creamy Sweet Corn Soup.  It used to have a mild corn flavour that I used as a base for corn chowder. I am not sure what they changed but it now has a nasty chemical aftertaste. I stopped making corn chowder after this.

But then I found a recipe in Chatelaine Magazine that uses canned cream style corn to give the soup thickness and body. I had always thought that cream style corn was corn puréed with cream, but it turns out it contains corn, water, sugar and cornstarch. It is low in fat and works beautifully to thicken a corn chowder with very little effort. The original recipe used bacon to get that smoky flavour. We keep kosher, so bacon was out of the question. For a cold winter day (like every day this winter!) I wanted to have the heaviness of a smoky soup. I decided to experiment with smoked turkey breast. I chopped up a few slices and sautéed them in some vegetable oil. Instead of onions, I opted to use leeks.  Sometimes leeks can be quite sandy, so I quarter them, slice them and then soak them in a bowl of cold water.

This is one of those simple chop and dump soups. It simmers for 20 minutes and you have a thick and hearty chowder. A bowl of this is like a big hug, warm and comforting. Add a slice or two of no-knead bread and dinner is done.

I also popped in a finely diced jalapeno pepper when I was sautéing the leeks to wake things up a bit. You could use sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes for a pretty colour contrast and to up the vitamin content. Make it today, you’ll thank me.

To print this recipe, click here.