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Zox Kitchen

Zox Kitchen: January 4, 2013

Essential Soups of the Season

Soup is one of those primordial foods, as basic and essential to eating well as learning to tie one’s shoes is to personal development. In the spirit of eating for purposes besides simple fuel, learning the basics of soup-making represents a first step towards enhancing the quality of our culinary lives with minimal effort. 

Still, some friends tell me that thanks to soup’s can-friendly availability (think: Campbell’s or Progresso) that cooking soup for yourself is unnecessary and too time consuming. But if you are reading this column you may have some ambivalence about that point of view. It’s difficult to ignore quality when the process is so quick and easy, economic and delicious. Making it yourself enables you to also make it for others. And of course this may improve the value others place on your friendship. Everyone gets to enjoy a bowl of soup to boot. 

We can all partake in the joys and benefits of making soup if we follow 10 basic steps, given to us by Deborah Madison, the chef and co founder of Greens at Fort Mason, San Francisco.   

1. Warm the oil or butter.

2. Use a large, wide pot so that vegetables can breathe and brown instead of steam. 

3. Add onions or leeks to slowly cook in oil or butter. 

4. Cook until the onions are soft.

5. Add vegetables (your choice) and a little salt and cook for a few minutes. 

6. Add water or stock.          

7. Boil, then simmer, partially covered.

8. Cool, then blend or puree or leave vegetables cut in small chunks.

9. Season to taste, with a little salt and a little lemon or vinegar to draw the flavors together.

10. Garnish and serve with an assortment of options – i.e. chopped fresh or fried herbs; herb or blossom butters; fresh or cooked greens; pastas and/or grains or yogurt; crème fraiche or sour cream. Let your imagination go to work here. 

If you have never made soup before, try potato-leek soup, pureed, first. It’s simple, difficult to botch, and delicious—especially with nutmeg and one cup of heavy cream added. You can even leave the skin on the potatoes and puree with an emulsion mixer. Use a sieve if you wish to remove all potato skin specks of discoloration. A more adventuresome option is to make soup with an assortment of cooked greens such as nettles, watercress, kale and dandelion greens and chard,  my favorite, which is wonderful by itself.  And if you have extra chard after making the soup, it’s terrific in a stir-fry with a little oil, garlic, soy and lemon juice. Or, prepare a gratin of layered chard slices, bread crumbs, grated Finlandia or mozzarella and the rich, white sauce, béchamel.  

Provencal Red Chard Soup - Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 leeks, cut in half length wise, cut into ½” wide slices, and rinsed carefully

4 garlic cloves, sliced

Juice of ½ lemon

1 teaspoon marjoram 

6 cups chopped green chard (two bunches) rinsed carefully after removing the vein  in each leaf

1 ½ quarts of water

¼ cup Parmigiana Reggiano

Season to taste with kosher salt and white pepper

Eight thin slices of baguette French bread, toasted and rubbed with a couple slices of garlic 

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Let the oil warm and add the sliced leeks. Stir at medium heat until tender. Add the garlic until fragrant. Add the greens and stir until they begin to wilt. Add the water, bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer, partially covered for 15 - 20 minutes. Add seasoning to taste. 

Pour the soup into a tureen if you have one and bring it to the table with a trivet to protect the table. Otherwise fill the bowls at the stove. Brush the toasted, garlic baguette slices with oil and place two in each soup bowl. Ladle the soup and sprinkle some Parmigiano Reggiano on top. Enjoy the luxury and warmth of the moment. Others will too.