Two-step soups

For everyday home cooking, preparing a separate garnish might appear impractical and even frivolous.

squash soup 88 (photo credit: )
squash soup 88
(photo credit: )
At my cooking classes in a Parisian cooking school, we often made vegetable soups. Even when preparing simple soups, we were taught to take a little extra care so they would be attractive and elegant. To make creamy broccoli soup, we cooked broccoli florets in broth, then pureed them and added cream to make a pale green potage. For garnish, the chef instructed us to lightly cook extra broccoli florets in another pot of boiling water. We had to drain them quickly, rinse them with cold water to keep their color bright, and then drain them again. At serving time, we briefly dunked the broccoli florets in boiling water to reheat them, then drained them once again and added some to each bowl of soup. The florets stayed on top of the thick soup and made a colorful decoration. We were training to become professional chefs. For everyday home cooking, preparing a separate garnish might appear impractical and even frivolous. Yet it has other benefits besides adding visual appeal. When you cook vegetables long enough to make a tasty soup, they give much of their flavor to the water to turn it into broth, but the vegetables themselves become a bit tired. Adding briefly cooked, crisp-tender vegetables as a garnish gives a lively flavor and provides a pleasing bite, contrasting with the smooth soup. I have adopted a compromise - a modified way to make use of the French chefs' technique without having to clean extra pots. This alternative method also conserves the vegetables' vitamins. It is easy to use for both smooth and chunky soups. Let's say I'm making broccoli soup flavored with onions, celery and carrots. First I cook the broccoli florets in water until they are crisp-tender, then I remove them with a slotted spoon to a dish. Thus the broccoli retains good flavor and texture and stays bright green - not quite as vivid as if I had rinsed it in cold water, but good enough. I leave most of the sliced broccoli stems in the pot, and at this point I add the other vegetables. They simmer in the water in which I cooked the broccoli, so that the water-soluble vitamins that washed out of the broccoli during cooking are still in the soup. At serving time, I reheat the florets directly in the soup or microwave them in their dish. At first I used this technique - of cooking a portion of the vegetables for a shorter time and removing them - only with green vegetables, because they become dull in color when they simmer at length with other ingredients. Lately I've been using this method even for traditional "soup vegetables." Carrots and turnips have a sweeter, more intense flavor when they're briefly cooked, but it's good to cook some for a longer time so they lend their natural sweetness to the broth. Mushrooms, cauliflower, celery and even sweet onions benefit from this treatment from the standpoint of flavor and texture. Keeping some of the vegetables separate takes a little more attention than simply throwing everything in the pot, but the results are worth it. With some vegetables, there are variations on this two-step soup method. Barbara Kafka, the author of Soup: A Way of Life (Artisan, 1998) makes asparagus soup by simmering the woody stems to make a soup base and straining the liquid, then adds the sauteed asparagus tips and tender stalks, along with sauteed leeks, cooked rice and tarragon. To make soup from frozen peas, she cooks half the peas in chicken stock and purees them, then simmers the remaining peas briefly in this mixture so they remain a vivid green. Tender leafy greens need only one step to add a bright green touch to vegetable soups - you simply add the chopped leaves to the soup at the last minute. David Ansel, the author of The Soup Peddler's Slow and Difficult Soups (Ten Speed, 2005), adds kale to his minestrone for the last five minutes of the soup's cooking time, just until the kale becomes tender but retains an appealing color. According to Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers by the Moosewood Collective (Potter, 2005), the restaurant's cooks brighten their red bean and potato soup by adding chopped arugula (rocket cress) at serving time so it softens from the heat of the broth. The arugula's verdant hue and peppery taste turn a potentially heavy combination of potatoes and beans into a lively soup. QUICK BROCCOLI SOUP WITH CARROTS, GARLIC AND RICE To turn this appetizer into a main-course soup, add 11⁄2 to 2 cups bite-size pieces of cooked chicken or turkey or 350 grams cubed tofu to the soup and heat through. Instead of rice, you can cook 11⁄3 cups fine noodles directly in the soup for the last 5 or 6 minutes of its simmering time. 1 large leek, white and light green parts only (optional), quartered lengthwise salt (optional) and freshly ground black pepper 3 cups small broccoli florets and sliced tender stems 1 large onion, chopped (or 2 onions, if omitting leek) 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced 3 1⁄2 cups vegetable or chicken broth 4 large garlic cloves, minced 1⁄4 tsp. hot red pepper flakes 1⁄2 tsp. dried thyme 11⁄2 cups hot cooked brown or white rice Rinse leek well to remove sand between layers and cut in thin slices. Bring 21⁄2 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add broccoli florets and stems with a small pinch of salt. Cook uncovered for 5 minutes or until florets are crisp-tender. Transfer florets with a slotted spoon to a bowl, leaving stem slices in pot. Add leek, onion, carrot and broth to pot. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Add garlic and pepper flakes. Cover and cook over low heat for 2 minutes or until all vegetables are tender. Return broccoli florets to pan. Stir in thyme, black pepper and salt if needed. Ladle into bowls and top each with a few spoonfuls of rice. Makes 4 servings. Faye Levy is the author of the 3-volume Fresh from France cookbook series (Dutton).