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George H. W. Bush, America's 41st president, may be the most famous broccoli hater, but when he admitted his dislike for the vegetable he undoubtedly knew he had plenty of company.
Because of broccoli's healthy properties, home cooks are eager to feed it to their families. One way to get people with vegetable phobia to eat their greens is to serve them in a different form. Perhaps the easiest method is to disguise them as a soup, especially a cream soup. Once you've reduced the vegetable to a smooth, velvety puree, many diners, whether adults or children, find that it goes down easily. The traditional additions of milk or a little cream also help by softening the vegetable's flavor.
With broccoli, this strategy seems to be especially effective. Most American broccoli soup recipes begin with the basic French cream soup technique of blending the cooked vegetable with a thin cream sauce until smooth. For a deeper flavor, many cook the broccoli in chicken or vegetable broth, or add aromatic vegetables such as carrots, onions, leeks, celery or garlic. Herbs, notably thyme, bay leaves, rosemary and marjoram, are popular too, or a sprinkling of fresh basil or chives. For a gourmet touch, some embellish their cream of broccoli soup with cooked dried mushrooms.
Yolanda Fintor and Carla L. Henry, authors of Souper Skinny Soups, prepare a main-course broccoli and salmon chowder by stirring canned salmon into their milk-enriched broccoli soup. This is a good way to use up cooked fresh fish too, if you have too little left to serve on its own as an entree.
How rich to make the soup is a matter of taste. The usual choice for enrichment is light cream, or a combination of milk and whipping cream. Those who are watching their calories make the "cream" sauce with lowfat or nonfat milk. Richest of all is broccoli and cheese soup, a restaurant favorite, which is finished not only with cream but also with a lavish amount of grated cheddar cheese.
Deborah Madison, author of Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison's Kitchen, makes such a soup and advises that once you've added the cheese, you should avoid boiling the broccoli soup or the cheese will become tough. Her soup is quite spicy, with garlic, cayenne and Dijon mustard in addition to the sharp cheddar. She recommends toasted rye or whole-wheat bread as an accompaniment. With such a rich soup, you don't need much else for supper.
Broccoli soup is appealing when silky-smooth, but for many diners it's even more enticing when you embellish it with "fun foods" like small pasta shapes, corn kernels or crunchy croutons of cubed bread sauteed in butter. For a fresh touch and color contrast, you can add a few cubes of tomato. Almost everyone welcomes a dollop of sour cream as a topping.
French chefs advise garnishing the soup with a few cooked broccoli florets to signal what's in the soup, but that's up to you. If you're serving it to reluctant kids, it's probably best to omit them.
BROCCOLI CREAM SOUP WITH PASTA SHELLS
Making soup is an economical way to use broccoli, as you can use the peeled broccoli stalks as well. If you're in a rush, you can make a fine soup from frozen broccoli too.
Small pasta shells contribute a pleasing texture to this smooth, pale green soup. I cook some of the broccoli florets as a garnish just before serving the soup, but you can cook and puree all the broccoli together if you prefer.
To make the soup parve, substitute soy milk or rice milk for the cream, or omit it.
1.3 kg. broccoli, cut in medium florets, stalks reserved
3 Tbsp. butter or vegetable oil
1 small onion, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
31â„2 cups parve chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
2â„3 cup whipping cream or 1â„2 cup milk
1 cup small pasta shells
2 to 3 Tbsp. more broth or milk, if desired
Cayenne pepper to taste
About 1â„2 to 3â„4 cup sour cream (optional)
Peel broccoli stalks with paring knife; slice stalks.
Melt butter in a heavy medium saucepan over low heat. Add onion and cook over low heat for five minutes or until softened. Add and garlic and cook one minute, stirring. Whisk in flour. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, two minutes. Remove from heat. Gradually whisk in three cups broth. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and comes to boil. Add bay leaf and a pinch of salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Reserve two cups small broccoli florets. Add remaining florets and stems to broth mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring often so all pieces come in contact with liquid and flour does not stick to bottom of pan. As broccoli becomes more tender, crush it slightly with spoon while stirring. Simmer for 20 minutes or until broccoli is very tender. Discard bay leaf.
With a slotted spoon, transfer cooked broccoli to a food processor or blender (in batches if necessary) and puree. With blades turning, gradually add rest of soup to puree. Puree until very smooth. Return soup to saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring.
Add enough of remaining broth to bring soup to desired consistency. Bring to a boil, stirring. Add remaining broccoli florets to soup and cook for two minutes, uncovered. Add cream and bring again to a boil, stirring. If necessary, simmer one or two minutes until soup reaches desired consistency.
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil and add salt. Just before serving, add pasta and cook uncovered over high heat, stirring occasionally, about five minutes or until tender but firm to the bite. Drain well.
If soup was made ahead, reheat it over medium-low heat, stirring. If soup is too thick, add a little broth or milk. Remove soup from heat and stir in pasta and cayenne pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve each bowl garnished with a dollop of sour cream.
Makes 6 servings.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning cookbook Fresh From France: Vegetable Creations.