It is possible that Thomas Fuller overstated the case for soup when, nearly 400 years ago, he wrote that "Of soup and love, the first is best."
Fuller could not have been thinking of soups that serve as preamble to a meal-those pale consommes and wan bouillons, those see-through soups that are chilled or jellied or garnished with chives. No, what he had in mind was a soup that surrenders itself as readily to fork as spoon, a soup that doesn't come before a meal but is, indeed, a meal.
Love or soup? Fortunately, this is not a choice many of us feel compelled to make. Tonight it's soup.
Ingredients: Beef (boneless chuck, 2 or 3 pounds; beef marrow bones (2 pounds, cracked); a large turnip; 2 onions; 3 carrots; cabbage (1 small head); celery; parsley; garlic; canned tomatoes (1 large can); sauerkraut (1 pound); sour cream; salt; pepper; bay leaf; fresh dill.
Time Required: 4 hours.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Peel and dice the onions, carrots and turnip. Slice the celery stalks and leaves. Place all this in a roasting pan with the meat and the bones and put them into the oven for 25 minutes.
Remove pan from oven and scrape contents-including a few tablespoons of the melted fat-into a large soup kettle. Add 8 cups of water and bring to a boil over high heat, then lower heat to medium-low. As froth forms on the surface of the soup, remove it with a ladle.
Now add a large can of tomatoes, a small handful of parsley, another of fresh dill. A bay leaf. Two cloves of garlic, minced. Some salt and pepper. Cover pot and cook over a low heat for 2 hours.
Add the cabbage, shredded. And the sauerkraut. Cook for another hour. The meat should be tender, falling-apart tender. Serve each bowl of soup with a dollop of sour cream and a pinch of dill.
Ingredients: Bacon (5 strips); 50 fresh chowder clams; 2 onions; 1 green pepper; celery; potatoes (2 pounds): milk; light cream; salt; pepper.
Time Required: 1 1/2 hours.
Scrub and rinse the clams. Place them in a covered pot with 6 cups of cold water over high heat. When water comes to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until clam shells open.
Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook in a large frying pan over medium heat. Peel and chop 2 onions and add them to the frying bacon. Chop up a green pepper and a stalk of celery, leaves included, and add this.
When clam shells have all opened, remove the meat from the shells and chop it. Add the clam meat to the frying pan. Before adding the rest of the clam broth, strain the sand away with a piece of cheesecloth.
Peel the potatoes, dice them and add them to the mixture. In 20 minutes or so, when the potatoes are tender, add 2 cups of milk and 1 cup of light cream, as well as a generous amount of salt and pepper.
Ingredients: One ham bone (this is an ideal soup to make the day after you've had baked ham); spilt peas (2 cups, dried); onion; celery; carrot; garlic; bay leaf; thyme; salt; pepper; cayenne pepper; croutons.
Time Required: 3 hours.
This same basic recipe-starting with a ham bone and as much of the ham as you've been able to salvage-works well with almost any dried bean, especially well with lentils, kidney beans, black beans and white pea beans. Whatever you settle on, rinse them carefully and soak them overnight.
Put the ham bone into a soup kettle with between 2 and 3 quarts of water. Add a large onion, peeled and chopped; 3 or 4 stalks of celery, chopped, including some of the leaves; 2 carrots, chopped; 2 cloves of garlic, minced, a bay leaf; a pinch of thyme and another of cayenne pepper; salt and pepper.
Bring the water to a boil rapidly and then lower heat. Simmer until the spilt peas are tender. Some would recommend that you remove the bone and run the rest of the soup through a blender; my feeling is that it should be left as is, served with some of the ham in each bowl and topped with a handful of croutons.
Once you've made the soup of your choice, the rest of the meal is a snap.
Garlic bread-just slice a loaf of French or Italian bread down the middle, butter it, dot it with minced garlic and bake for 10 or 15 minutes at 300 degrees. Then scrape off the garlic bits. The salad will be whatever greens are available, tossed with oil (3 parts) and vinegar (1 part). Beer and crackers would go very well with the clam chowder; try a hearty red wine with the other soups.