Potage with punch

People in Provence use a rich variation on the garlic theme by adding aioli, a sauce resembling garlicky mayonnaise, to soup to make bourride.

orzo pasta 311 (photo credit: Valentin M. Mendoza/Orange County Register/MCT)
orzo pasta 311
(photo credit: Valentin M. Mendoza/Orange County Register/MCT)
I enjoy preparing new soups. They might originate from an idea from a friend, from memories of restaurant meals, recipes from favorite books or as variations of classic creations.
Once in a while one of these experiments gives unsatisfactory results. There might be a flavor we don’t like, such as Asian bitter melon. Sometimes the soup is not flavorful enough, it tastes too much like water.
This can happen when the soup needs to be ready fast or when I’m making a completely natural vegetable soup – without soup powders or mixes. I might be trying to coax flavor out of delicate ingredients, like sprigs of thyme that need to infuse their flavor slowly into the soup.
In these cases, like many other cooks and chefs, I have my little bag of tricks that are virtually guaranteed to work.
Number one is using garlic. For maximum punch I add it either lightly sauteed or raw to the finished soup. For four to six portions of soup, I add two to four large cloves, but the amount is a matter of personal taste. If I want to reheat the soup and keep the strong garlic flavor, instead of bringing the soup to a simmer, which appears to diminish the garlic’s effect, I microwave it in our bowls, so the garlic retains its potency.
People in Provence use a rich variation on the garlic theme by adding aioli, a sauce resembling garlicky mayonnaise, to soup to make bourride. Traditionally bourride is a fish soup, but I like adding aioli as a basic technique for vegetable soup too. Similarly, the familiar Italian minestrone makes use of pesto, which combines garlic with fresh basil, olive oil, Parmesan cheese and nuts. Like aioli, pesto is added to soups at the last minute to preserve the fresh flavors.
Ginger root is a great soup enhancer. Some cooks finish soups withfreshly grated ginger. Chopped ginger works well too but it needs timeto simmer; I give it at least 10 minutes. To vegetable soups made withwater, I add minced ginger when I begin cooking to make sure they won’tbe bland.
Hot pepper flakes or hot pepper paste, such as Yemenite garlic-peppers’hug, Indonesian sambal oelek or Chinese chili-garlic paste, boost theflavor of soups, and so does ground cayenne or hot paprika. Caution isin order, so the soup doesn’t turn out fiery. For me about 1⁄4 teaspoonflakes or pepper paste or a few shakes of cayenne are just right for apot of four to six portions. Salt is important too; even if you’retrying to go easy on sodium, adding even a pinch makes a difference inflavor.
Fresh green herbs add bright color and good taste. Dill, tarragon andfresh coriander are fine choices; so are chives and even common greenonions and parsley.
When time allows, I put all these elements in the same pot of potage. Istart with fresh ginger, add whatever assortment of vegetables I have,and finish with garlic, hot pepper, salt and a leafy green herb.
Combining several last-minute flavorings is a popular procedure. KarenLee, author of Soup, Salad and Pasta Innovations(Doubleday), makes cumin-seasoned Egyptian chickpea soup withvegetables and rice and improves the flavor at serving time with lemonwedges, cilantro and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
Lydie Marshall, author of Soup of the Day (HarperCollins), adds new touches to common soups. In her creamy cauliflowersoup, she switches the usual nutmeg with curry powder, making itspicier and imparting a pale golden hue; you could use both if you like.
A finishing drizzle of white wine vinegar along with strips of freshbasil lend a lively flavor to Barbara Kafka’s great green soup, made ofall sorts of green vegetables, which appears in her impressive tome,Soup – A Way of Life (Artisan). Her enticing potageof humble cabbage, zucchini and potatoes is embellished with a littleolive oil and fresh dill.
Faye Levy is the author of Fresh from France: Vegetable Creations.
Quick vegetable soup with orzo
Sauteed garlic flavors both the soup and its accompanying orzo, or barley-shaped pasta.
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil1 onion, chopped11⁄2 cups orzo or riso (barley-shaped or rice-shaped pasta)6 large garlic cloves, choppedsalt and freshly ground pepper7 cups chicken or vegetable broth or water1⁄2 tsp. paprika, either sweet or hot1⁄2 tsp. turmeric2 medium carrots, diced2 medium yellow crookneck squash or zucchini,    halved and sliced225 gr. mushrooms, quartered11⁄2 cups frozen peas (optional)2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro (fresh coriander)
In a medium saucepan heat oil, add onion and saute 5 minutes over medium heat. Add orzo and half the garlic and saute over low heat, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Add salt, pepper and 3 cups chicken stock. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat about 12 minutes or until orzo is just tender. Fluff with a fork.
Meanwhile, bring remaining stock to a simmer with carrots in another saucepan. Cover and simmer 5 minutes. Add squash, mushrooms, peas, paprika, turmeric and remaining garlic. Bring to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes or until vegetables are just tender. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Add cilantro at serving time. Serve orzo in a separate bowl, for adding to soup.
Makes 4 servings.
Vegetable bourride
This vegetable variation of a Provencal fish soup has a zesty flavor and a creamy consistency due to the addition of aioli, or garlic sauce. Traditionally homemade aioli is made like mayonnaise, with egg yolks and extra virgin olive oil, and the soup is heated only slightly after the aioli is added. Some prefer to serve the aioli separately for spreading on toasted baguette slices, which can be floated in the bowls of soup.
The recipe makes use of an easy version of aioli made by mixing garlic with mayonnaise, preferably one made with olive oil. If you can get fresh, organic eggs and you wish to make classic aioli, see the Note below.
5 garlic cloves1⁄2 cup mayonnaiseSalt and freshly ground pepper1 to 2 tsp. fresh strained lemon juice (optional)100 gr. to 120 gr. small zucchini    or white squash (kishuim), unpeeled225 gr. carrots225 gr. leeks, light green and white parts only,    cleaned thoroughly2 celery stalks, peeled1⁄2 small sprig rosemary2 sprigs fresh thyme1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil1⁄3 cup chopped onion4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
Finely chop garlic cloves in a food processor or by hand. Remove about 2 teaspoons of the garlic and reserve for sauteing. To food processor add mayonnaise and blend with the chopped garlic to make quick aioli. Remove; taste and adjust seasoning; and stir in lemon juice if desired.
Cut zucchini in 4-cm. lengths, then in thin sticks. Cut carrots, leeks and celery in pieces of same size as zucchini. Wrap rosemary and thyme in a piece of cheesecloth and tie tightly to make a bouquet garni.
Heat oil in a heavy medium saucepan over low heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, about 5 minutes or until soft but not brown. Add reserved chopped garlic and cook 30 seconds, stirring. Add broth, bouquet garni, salt and pepper. Stir and bring to a boil. Add carrots. Simmer uncovered over low heat for 5 minutes. Add celery and leeks and return to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes or until carrots are just tender. Add zucchini and cook for 5 minutes or until just tender.
Remove soup from heat. Discard bouquet garni. Using slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to a medium bowl, letting as much broth as possible drain back into pan. Holding solids back with large slotted spoon, drain any liquid from bottom of bowl back into pan.
Spoon aioli into a heavy medium bowl. Gradually whisk about 2 cups of soup into aioli. With saucepan off heat, gradually whisk mixture into remaining soup. Return soup to low heat and heat, whisking constantly, for about 4 minutes; do not let soup come near a boil.
Remove from heat and gently add vegetable mixture with a slotted spoon, leaving any liquid in bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot.Makes 5 or 6 servings.
Note: To make aioli: Chop 5 garlic cloves in food processor and reserve 2 teaspoons for soup, as in recipe above. To food processor add 4 yolks of fresh eggs, 1 teaspoon strained fresh lemon juice and a little salt and pepper. Process until very thoroughly blended, scraping container several times. With motor running, gradually pour in 1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil in a thin trickle; after you have added 1⁄4 cup, remaining oil can be poured in a little faster, in a fine stream. If you are making aioli ahead, bring it to room temperature before using it for the soup.