"Only the pure in heart can make a good soup."
— Ludwig van Beethoven
Soup is a frequent topic of discussion, heated and reheated at our table. We cover, at length and in detail, what is great about the latest pot of soup, how it compares to other pots of soup and what will be different (or the same) about future pots of soup. We are definitely "pure in heart."
This is the best thing I have learned from years of soup-making:
When you make a chicken stock, spread out a large square of cheesecloth and on it place your chicken bones and some skin (ideally from a roasted chicken), carrot, celery and onion, all cut into large chunks, a bay leaf and what I call Scarborough Fair seasonings (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme) and one chicken bouillon cube. Tie it all up like a giant tea bag, put into a slow cooker, cover it with water, the lid and turn it on low.
This is the really important part: leave it to cook for a full 24 hours. It is far tastier than any other broth I have made in less time. Strain it and you're good to go.
I've rounded up a few soup and stew cookbooks for your consideration. Note that these are the list prices, and if you look around, you will likely find lower prices.
-- The Soup Mix Gourmet by Diane Phillips, Harvard Common Press, $25.95
I am all in favour of anything that gets you out of the drive-thru lane, and that includes the judicious use of convenience foods as a jumping off point for a home-cooked meal. This one includes 375 recipes that use canned or dried-soup mix as the inspiration for dips, salads, casseroles, and even... soup! Very good for novice cooks. And yes, when I was a novice, I used recipes just like these to get me started.
-- Bean by Bean by Crescent Dragonwagon, Workman Publishing, $19.95
Beans are nutritious, economical, versatile and can be a key part of any soup or stew. They can also be the foundation for a hearty side dish for your soups. This covers all the basics from fresh to dried, and recipes from starters and soups to sweets. Great for beginners.
-- The Best Soups in the World by Clifford A. Wright, John Wiley & Sons, $27.95
A bold title, yes, but the recipes are truly international. There are 300 recipes (with an interesting section on grain-based soups) to keep any cook challenged for a good long time.
-- Soup Makes the Meal by Ken Haedrich, Harvard Common Press, $22.95
Soup can be the whole meal if you round it out right, so this is a book after my own heart, with 50 menus consisting of soup, salad and bread, divided by season. Starts with two basic recipes for stock (chicken/turkey/beef or vegetable) and a variety of both quick and yeast-raised breads. Work your way through and then mix and match.
-- Delicious Soups by Belinda Williams, Ryland, Peters, and Small, $29.95
This is a gorgeous book filled with beautiful recipes and photos of soups with rich, complex flavours. Ideal for more confident cooks who have already mastered some technique and enjoy spending a little more time at the stove. The recipes are more on the hearty side.
-- Fine Cooking Soups and Stews by Editors of Fine Cooking, Taunton Press, $22.95
These are "no-fail" recipes, well-illustrated with good additional instructions on technique and useful information on ingredients. Features a wide range of both familiar and exotic ingredients so you can stay with the familiar or step out with something new.
Tortellini Soup with Carrots, Peas & Leeks
From Fine Cooking Soups and Stews (Editors of Fine Cooking, Taunton Press, 2013). Accompanying photo: Scott Phillips
2 medium leeks
15 ml (1 tbsp) unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (about 15 ml/ 1 tbsp)
1/2 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced (30 ml/ 2 tbsp)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1.25 litres (5 cups) homemade or lower-salt chicken broth
250 g (8 oz) frozen cheese tortellini
250 ml (1 cup) frozen peas
50 ml (1/4 cup) freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
You can make most of the soup ahead, but don't add the tortellini until you're ready to eat or they'll become mushy.
Trim the roots and dark green leaves from the leeks. Slice the white and light green part in half lengthwise and then slice the halves thinly crosswise. Rinse well and drain. Melt the butter in a 4-litre (4-quart) saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, leeks and carrot. Season with a couple of pinches of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. (It's fine if the vegetables brown lightly.) Stir in 1 ml (1/4 tsp) pepper and cook for about 20 seconds, then add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add the tortellini and cook for 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the peas. Continue to simmer until the tortellini are cooked, 3 to 5 minutes.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Portion the soup into warm bowls, top each with some of the cheese, and serve. Serves 4.
Scottish Root Vegetable Soup with Pearl Barley and Thyme
From Delicious Soups, by Belinda Williams (Ryland, Peters, and Small,
$29.95; www.rylandpeters.com) Photo by Steve Painter.
100 g (7 tbsp) butter
1 small onion, diced
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
800 ml (3 1/3 cups) vegetable stock
1 parsnip, peeled and diced ¼ celeriac/celery root, peeled and diced ¼ swede/rutabaga, peeled and diced
2 celery sticks, sliced
1 leek, finely sliced
90 g (½ cups) pearl barley a handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped a bunch of fresh thyme, leaves only
100 ml (7 tbsp) double/heavy cream sea salt and ground black pepper
Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the onion, potatoes and half the diced carrots. Cook for a few minutes to soften, then pour in the stock. Put the lid on the pan and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 15–20 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender. Draw the pan off the heat and whiz with a stick blender until very smooth.
Add the remaining vegetables to the soup base along with the barley.
Cover the pan and simmer for about 7–10 minutes, until the barley and vegetables are tender. The barley naturally thickens the liquid, so keep an eye on it and top up with a little water if the soup begins to get too thick, or it will not cook properly and may catch on the base of the pan.
Once the vegetables are tender, stir in the herbs and season well. This soup loves freshly ground black pepper, so make sure your pepper mill is full. Finally, and just before serving, stir in the cream to just give that added richness.
Ladle the soup into bowls or mugs and serve with crusty home-baked bread or a good soda bread. Variation: For a meaty version, stir 250 g/9 oz cooked pulled lamb into the soup when you add the herbs. Cook for a couple more minutes so that the lamb has a chance to heat through.