The Best of Spring In a Soup Bowl
By Lisa Yockelson
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, May 12, 2004; Page F01
In many kitchens, the stockpot goes into the cupboard at the first sight of spring blossoms and doesn't come out until the first chill in fall.
But not at my house. Why should spring be without an all-purpose vegetable soup? Something light and delicate -- such as green pea, lemony sorrel, even lettuce soup -- that is not in need of a long slow simmer on the back burner.
My soup is based on the same components of soup for any season: broth, onions, carrots and celery, starch and vegetables. But young leeks accent the rugged yellow onion. Starches take the form of new potatoes rather than old russets. And I rely not on slow-cooked root vegetables but on fresh young peas and asparagus for flavor and color.
No matter the season, the very best vegetable soup is thrown together casually but not randomly. While you may substitute some vegetables or starches for others, I have found that it is important to follow a few basic principles:
• Good, flavorful broth is a necessity.
• Vegetables need to be added incrementally, from hardest to most tender, to maximize their potential without overcooking them.
• Add fresh herbs, even if all you have is parsley.
This soup is a working blueprint for any number of vegetable and flavor combinations:
Makes 14 cups, 8 servings
A small amount of oil and butter give this soup a rich flavor. The basic formula can be adjusted by adding tiny pasta, salty Parmesan cheese or a rich herb paste; see variations (at right).
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 slender leeks (pale green and white sections only), thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
4 stalks celery, trimmed and diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 zucchini, trimmed and diced
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh marjoram
About 11/2 cups canned, drained chickpeas or 3/4 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cool water to cover, rinsed and drained well (optional)
81/2 cups flavorful chicken broth
3 new or small Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and diced
1 small head escarole, leaves trimmed and torn into 2-inch lengths (about 21/2 loosely packed cups)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup shelled fresh peas (may substitute defrosted frozen peas)
1/2 pound slender asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch sections
In a large, nonreactive pot over medium-low heat, heat the oil and butter. When the butter has melted, add the onion and cook just until softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in the leeks and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the celery and carrots and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook for 1 minute.
Add the parsley and marjoram and stir to combine. Add the chickpeas, if desired, and pour in the broth. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Uncover, add the potatoes and escarole, cover and simmer for 25 minutes longer, or until the potatoes are tender. Season the soup with salt and pepper. Add the peas and asparagus and simmer until the asparagus is barely tender, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the size. Taste the soup and season accordingly with salt and pepper.
Per serving (based on 8): 220 calories, 9 gm protein, 25 gm carbohydrates, 11 gm fat, 14 mg cholesterol, 4 gm saturated fat, 261 mg sodium, 6 gm dietary fiber
Pasta Boil 1/3 cup small dried pasta, such as alphabet noodles, in a pot of salted water until just tender, about 6 minutes. Drain well; do not rinse in additional water. Add to the soup during the last 5 minutes of simmering, right after you add the peas and asparagus.
Parmesan cheese In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese with 3 tablespoons olive oil. After the pot has been removed from the heat and just prior to serving, stir the cheese mixture into the soup.
Basil, garlic, and olive oil Omit the marjoram; add an extra tablespoon of chopped parsley.
In a food processor or bowl, puree or mash 10 basil leaves, 2 peeled garlic cloves and 3 tablespoons olive oil into a rough paste. After the pot has been removed from the heat and just prior to serving, stir the herb mixture into the soup.
Gruyere toasts Lightly toast eight 1/2-inch-thick slices of country-style bread on one side. Spread the untoasted side of the bread with room-temperature unsalted butter, using about 2 tablespoons of butter total, then sprinkle with shredded Gruyere cheese, using about 1/2 cup of cheese total. Season lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toast or broil the slices until the edges of the bread are golden and the cheese is melted. Place 1 slice atop each individual bowl of soup just prior to serving.
Lisa Yockelson is the author of "Baking by Flavor" (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002).
© 2004 The Washington Post Company