Soups can seem so comforting when the weather turns cold, winter winds begin to blow and the rain is icy. The truth is that soups are quick, easy and affordable, especially if you start with a good recipe.
For years I thought soups were difficult to make. When I was young and first learning to cook, I kept reading recipes that said you could add almost anything into a soup pot and never fail, yet my first attempts failed miserably. Fortunately I eventually learned some basic techniques and proportions and began to produce soups that were edible - even enjoyable!
Most soups start by developing a flavor base. Onions, garlic and herbs tend to feature prominently, with a quick sauté to soften and caramelize their sturdy tastes. The star ingredients appear next, which might range from a single vegetable (as in tomato or potato soup, for example) to a complex combination of meat, fish, vegetables, beans, mushrooms and even fruits.
Water or a complementary soup stock are also added at this point, and the ingredients are simmered slowly to allow the flavors to combine with a glorious synergy. Finally, seasonings and herbs are adjusted to taste, and sometimes finishing ingredients are added that require little or no cooking, such as grated cheese or cream.
When you start with farm fresh, locally grown ingredients, even the simplest soups made with this traditional formula are a seasonal delight for any meal. A hearty soup can even be a meal in itself, perhaps with a piece of fresh chewy bread as accompaniment. However, possible variations are endless and a creative cook can combine refrigerator and pantry ingredients to make soups that are truly sensational.
That was what attracted me to a new cookbook I discovered recently titled "300 Sensational Soups" by Carla Snyder and Meredith Deeds. With this book, you could make a different soup every day for nearly 10 months.
Snyder and Deeds begin with step-by-step instructions for making fresh soup stocks - 14 different varieties, including familiar beef, chicken, fish, vegetable, mushroom and shellfish stocks, as well as some Asian variations. They offer basic techniques (such as straining, degreasing and storing), and then proceed to simple, yet detailed, recipes for each stock type.
After introducing stocks, the various chapters focus on soups featuring garden vegetables, beans, cheese, hearty meat soups, chicken and turkey, fish and shellfish, chowders, international flavors and even chilled and dessert soups. To finish, there's a chapter on presentation, which suggests toppings and garnishes.
Recipe directions are clear and easy to understand. Beautiful full color photos are interspersed throughout the book to whet your appetite and give you serving ideas. Measurements are given in both Imperial and metric units, and it was rare to see a recipe longer than a single page. Sidebars offer additional tips to enhance each soup.
The authors sum it up perfectly in their introduction:
"Soup is not just another meal - it's comfort in a bowl, love on a spoon, satisfaction simmering on the stove. Nothing makes a house feel more like a home than a pot of freshly made soup."
Note: The recipe below is from the book and is shown as originally published. I've added notes about food sources and changes I made to use local ingredients.
WHATCOM LOCAVORE HOLIDAY MENU PLANS!
Get recipes, shopping lists, and preparation schedules for a relaxing holiday dinner using locally grown ingredients: whatcomlocavore.com/2012-holiday-menus
BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP WITH NUTMEG CREAM
(Reprinted by permission from "300 Sensational Soups" by Carla Snyder and Meredith Deeds.)
The flavor of freshly grated nutmeg in an unsweetened whipped cream makes a lovely complement to the sweet butternut squash soup.
Tip: For best results when whipping, make sure the cream and your bowl and whip are cold.
1/4 cup unsalted butter (homemade with cream from Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy, Lynden)
1 butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
1 clove garlic, minced (Boxx Berry Farm, Ferndale)
1 cup finely chopped onion (Hopewell Farm, Everson)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander (I omitted this ingredient.)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Pinch freshly ground black pepper (I used a pinch of ground smoked cayenne pepper, Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock (homemade vegetable stock)
1/2 cup orange juice (I used 3/8 cup apple cider vinegar, BelleWood Acres, Lynden, and 1 tablespoon honey, Red Barn Lavender, Ferndale)
1/2 cup whipping (35 percent) cream (Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy, Lynden)
Pinch fresh grated nutmeg (not local; I used "Marco Polo rules"* for the holidays)
Cayenne pepper (more ground smoked cayenne pepper, Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
Soft baby sage leaves (optional) (home garden, Lummi Island)
For nutmeg cream:
1/2 cup cold whipping (35 percent) cream (Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy, Lynden)
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg (not local - "Marco Polo rules"*)
1. In a large pot, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add squash, garlic and onion; sauté for 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add salt, coriander, thyme and black pepper; sauté for 5 minutes. Add stock and orange juice; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer gently until squash is tender, about 30 minutes.
2. Using an immersion blender (or a food processor or blender in batches), puree soup until smooth. Return to the pot, if necessary. Stir in cream, nutmeg and cayenne to taste; reheat over medium heat, stirring often, until steaming. Do not let boil. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper, if necessary.
3. Prepare the nutmeg cream in a bowl. Using an electric mixer, whip cream until soft peaks form. Add nutmeg and whip until well-blended.
4. Ladle soup into heated bowls and top each with a dollop of nutmeg cream. Garnish with sage leaves, if desired.
* "Marco Polo rules" are the practice by some locavores (people who eat only locally grown food as much as possible) of using any herbs and spices, regardless of geographical source. I use Marco Polo rules only for holidays.
Reach Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or email@example.com. To follow her day to day locavore activities, "like" Whatcom Locavore on Facebook (www.facebook.com/whatcomlocavore) and "follow" on Twitter, @WhatcomLocavore. For locavore menus, recipes, and more resources, read her blog at whatcomlocavore.com.
Reach JULIE SHIRLEY at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2261.