Growing up in a Chinese household, soup was something Mom made many nights to go along with dinner. The stock was most often made with pork bones and to that base was added many a vegetable and/or mysterious dried seafood. Other varieties included my favorite chicken medicine soup made with ginseng; or Emperor soup made with leftover roast duck along with tomatoes, firm tofu, and pickled vegetables--hot and sour and, well, ducky: definitely killer.
All of these soups were brothy; a creamy soup was never to be found except sitting in a can on the garage pantry rack for the occasional casserole--which wasn't really a speciality or anything, just something "American," and that was good enough for us kids.
So I was surprised when at 17 or 18 I realized that other people actually eat creamed (or at least pureed) soups as a regular thing--and that it could even be gourmet! My favorite high school English teacher gave me The Silver Palate as a graduation present, sending with it her wishes that I would use it share the love of Christ with others I met through the gift of hospitality--and truly, the gifts of her friendship and that book have truly sparked such a passion.
(An aside: She had wanted to take Albert and me--her Teacher Assistant and Teacher Cadet, respectively--to Chez Panisse when we got into Berkeley, but things didn't work out so we ended up at this tiny little Tuscan restauarant on College Avenue, which, after now having been to CP--which to be fair, is amazing--I might dare to say is even better. Was even better, I should say. So unfair.)
I should also add, though this probably goes without saying, that this same teacher inspired me towards writing, in addition to all she did to encourage me in endeavors both in faith and food.
The Silver Palate has a few chapters on soups. My favorite of these has to be carrot; many people like it with ginger, but I say it's best on its own. Its taste is as vibrant as its color--sweet (in a vegetable-y sort of way) as it slips down your throat. And so I don't really like to add anything to it. I have pretty much followed the Palate's recipe religiously since I found it, but I omit the orange juice. (Just because things are the same color doesn't mean they go along.) I think I should add that I don't usually even like cooked carrots; this recipe is that good.
I made asparagus soup for that dinner party with Steph a while back, which we never ended up posting about, unfortunately. Which is really quite ridiculous because we had such good food that needed raving. (Steph, do post your chocolate pudding recipe. Just so I don't have to call you one more time for it; I think three has been enough.) But back to the point. The asparagus was truly dreamy and captivating. (Oh, of course, as was that pudding.) But, to be honest, it was quite a bit of work.
This picture was taken by my friend David. My wonderful friend Sarah helped tie the garnishes; aren't they lovely?
So I tried to make zucchini soup yesterday (by method similar to the carrot thinking it'd be easy), and I have just one word for you, Mr. Zucchini Soup: boring. (I don't even have a picture of you!) I had four small bowls, adding different ingredients each time to see if it was just missing a li'l somethin' but I couldn't figure it out. I salvaged the leftovers by making some pasta shells and throwing them together with black pepper and parmesan, and while I was eating that, I thought about making it by the asparagus method; afterall, the two vegetables sort of taste similar--full of green. Somehow cutting the zucchini seemed like less work than picking through and trimming asparagus; maybe it'll be worth it. Oh, and it'll probably a bit smoother, too: the asparagus had a bit of fiber (and I was too rushed at the time to push it through the sieve). Also, zucchini blends nicely, and when its peel is fragmented into tiny flecks of dark green it nicely offsets the lighter green of the soup.
One more green thing before I finish up here. I thought I would mention that I recently made the Brussels sprouts with fettucini and pine nuts on Orangette adapted from Gourmet. Definitely worth making, imho, and sure to banish the distrust of many a person who (thinks he) dislikes this little cousin of the cabbage. (And if you have non foodie friends who can't imagine eating the thought of eating only Brussels sprouts with only pasta to go with it, you can throw in some bacon with it. But I really think it's cheating.) I was pleasantly surprised by the goodness of this simple recipe. I've never had a successful pasta dish without garlic or black pepper, but this here was definitely a winner. I'd make it again, just to get a chance to appreciate the fragrance of the sprouts being sauteed with butter. Yum.
Now there' s almost too much green on this page, so I think I'll tell you about these beauties; I've been sneaking about four or five a day this week. Oh, my darling Californian clementine.
Well, time to get back to making Chinese noodles. (They are definitely being added to a soup with vegetables and dried seafood.) The dough's already been started with the aid of the, uh, KitchenAid--one reason I'm grateful to be back at my parents', because, everybody knows that you can't own a KitchenAid unless you're married.
Carrot Soup Without Orange Juice
pretty much from The Silver Palate, except for, of course, the orange juice
(and I'm currently doing this from memory, since the book's back on my shelf in Berkeley)
4 tablespoons butter (I use less and sometimes replace half with olive oil)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 pounds carrots, chopped (about 8-12, but it really doesn't matter)
4 cups chicken stock
salt to taste
pepper to taste, and also to pass at the table
Melt butter over low heat in heavy pot. Cook onions in butter until tender, about 20-25 minutes. (The secret to this soup is to be patient and really let the onions cook this long.) Add carrots and stock and bring to boil. Lower heat and cook for 20-30 minutes, until carrots are very tender. Strain, reserving the stock. Puree, in batches, the vegetable mixture in a food processor or blender, adding a half or whole cup of stock with each batch. Return puree to pot and reheat, adding reserved stock to bring to desired consistency. Adjust seasoning to taste and serve hot.
Leftovers, if you have them, are good cold, too!
Cream of Asparagus Soup
adapted from Victoria: At Table with Family and Friends
1 1/2 pounds asparagus
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium-sized yellow onion, diced
2 shallots, thinly sliced, plus 6 for garnish
1/4 cup dry vermouth (I used sauvignon blanc)
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 chives, for garnish
1. Remove and discard the tough stems of the asparagus. Reserve 3 tips per person for garnish. Cut the asparagus in 1-inch lengths. Peel the asparagus if they are large. (Otherwise the outer layer may impart a bitterness to the soup.)
2. Melt the butter in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Cook the onion in the butter, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the shallots and cover with vermouth. Cook until onions are translucent.
3. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus. Cover and cook the soup for 5-10 minutes, until the asparagus is very tender. Season the soup with salt, white pepper, and nutmeg.
4. Allow the soup to cool slightly. Strain the soup and reserve the liquid in the saucepan.
5. In batches, puree the vegetables in a blender or food processor. Add about one cup of the cooking stock and process until smooth. Strain the soup through a fine sieve to remove any asparagus fiber. Return soup to saucepan.
6. In a medium-size bowl, gradually whisk cream into flour until flour dissolves. Slowly whisk that mixture into the soup. Whisk soup over moderately high heat until it is thickened and boiling.
7. For each garnish, tie 3 tips into a bundle using a chive. Peel and halve the shallots length-wise. Blanch them for about 5 minutes in boiling, salted water. (Plunging the asparagus bundles in cold water after blanching can keep them green.) Drain.
8. For each serving, arrange 3 shallot halves on top of each serving of soup. Place an asparagus bundle on top of each shallot cluster.