Its winter, the holidays are over, and what fits this bill better than homemade, quick and easy, delicious bowls of soup to chase away the chill and fill us up with goodness! Just leave it to the world to start the New Year and the month of January as “National Soup Month.”
Whether sipped or slurped, soup has offered spoonfuls of comfort for nearly as long as we can document. Food historians tell us the history of soup is probably as old as the history of cooking. The act of combining various ingredients in a large pot to create a nutritious, filling, easily digested, simple to make/serve food was inevitable. It’s hard to imagine what a serving of an ancient soup du jour might have been!
Rich and poor, healthy people and invalids. Soups evolved according to local ingredients and tastes. Soup was a symbol of community, of religious fellowship, and even communion. While similarities existed between the soups of each region adding what was locally grown produced originality. New England chowder, Spanish gazpacho, Russian borscht, Italian minestrone, French onion, Chinese won ton and our all-American favorite Campbell’s tomato…are all variations on the same theme.
Homemade soup was a staple in our home. Soup took the place of an appetizer before a meal or the main dish. Growing up, I remember guests at our home were handed a small bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup about an hour before we sat down to the meal. It curbed the appetite and was a welcomed tradition which I since have learned is part of my Czechoslovakian heritage. The broth was clear, rich in flavor and accompanied by thin homemade egg noodles and small diced carrot and celery. Yum!
Making noodles is an art and adds so much more flavor to the pot. The dough was rolled out very thin and laid on cotton towels. The towel was taken outside, draped over the clothesline and the noodles would hang to dry for about 4 hours. The fragile crisp dough was sliced very thin and stored in an air-tight container waiting to go into the next pot. Today if we dried our egg noodles on our clothes line in the backyard we would probably receive a visited from our city health inspector. Take the easier route and purchase fine cut style egg noodles at your local grocer.
Vegetable and chicken stock form the foundation of most soups. There are, of course, several variations of each. The terms stock, broth and bouillon all describe the remaining liquid after cooking vegetables, meats, poultry or seafood in a flavored water. Typically, the solids are strained out and discarded, and the flavored water is used as a base for soups. Broth is used interchangeably with the word bouillon, which comes from the French word, bouillir, to boil.
When making poultry and beef stock, cover the bones with cold water and bring to a simmer. After foamy suds appear on the surface (this is called a raft), skim and simmer at least 30 minutes before adding the vegetables. This helps to make the soup more clear.
- When you add vegetables to a soup, they taste better if you sauté them in a little butter or olive oil first.
- Don’t boil your soups for too long, you’ll lose the color.
- If your soup is too salty place a raw potato in the pot and simmer with the soup for about 20 minutes. It will absorb the extra salt.
- If you need your soup to be a little thicker – whisk in some instant mashed potatoes.
- If you have any leftover cooked pasta, meat, or vegetables – use them for instant substance. Most cooked vegetables can also be pureed and then stirred in to thicken soups.
- Precook your rice, pasta, barley or egg noodles ala dente before adding to the soup and you will have less starch in the soup and a clearer broth.
- Soup will have more flavor if you make it a day ahead. Chilling it overnight will make it easy to remove all the fat.
- A good pot to use for making soups is a Dutch Oven, it’s shallow, but wide base makes combining ingredients a breeze and it’s an all purpose pot that every kitchen needs.
One of my favorite soups, which is easy and very nutritious, is Minestrone. The Italian root word in minestrone is minestra, which is a term that refers to chunky soup. In fact, the term “minestrone” is used in some instances to denote “hodgepodge” or “thrown together.” Minestrone is a very important part of Italian cuisine.
Minestrone soups are generally tomato based with beans, onions, celery, crushed or chopped tomatoes and carrots. There is no specific recipe for minestrone. The rules when it comes to making minestrone are generally: Use vegetables that are in season and readily available.
Like many of the most famous and widely enjoyed foods in the world, minestrone was originally peasant food. The dish is meant to be both easy to make and delicious, both nutritious and inexpensive. It was not created in gourmet kitchens by experimental chefs. Rather, it was born in the kitchens of commoners looking for a way to fill the bellies of their family members with a pleasing dish.
Pasta fagioli is another Italian soup or pasta dish similar to minestrone. It is heavier on beans and pasta and lighter on broth, but the concept and flavors of the dish are essentially the same as minestrone. This soup is very filling and healthy. It is important to use fresh vegetables and herbs. I hope you will enjoy this recipe.
By Chef Mary
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped fine
1 cup onion, chopped fine
1 cup celery, chopped fine
1 cup carrot, chopped fine
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with liquid
2 (15 ounce) cans of cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
1 quart chicken stock, or more if desired
2 bay leaves
1 – 2 tablespoons Chicken Base (optional)
8 ounces small pasta (ditalini, elbow or orzo)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Ground black pepper
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high heat and add pancetta, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add onion, celery and carrot, stirring occasionally until vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes; stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan. Add the beans and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer to blend flavors, about 10 minutes. Add chicken stock, 2 cups water, bay leaves, chicken base and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Increase heat to high and bring to boil and immediately bring down to medium low. Simmer for 1 hour. Cook the pasta separately until tender, drain and add to the soup. Stir in 3 tablespoons Italian parsley; season to taste with salt and pepper if needed. Ladle soup into individual bowls; drizzle each serving with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a portion of remaining parsley. Serve immediately, passing grated Parmesan separately.
Soup is the perfect comfort food. Relax, enjoy a bowl of soup and work on those New Year’s resolutions.