Last Saturday, I was sitting in the sunshine in the backyard; the next day, I was hauling sweaters and raincoats from the back of the closet to keep warm and dry. Not long before soup is on the menu.
Some soups are for adult palates only. Mushroom. French onion. Cream of celery. I’ve never met a kid who will consider a taste of any of them.
On the other hand, if soup contains some type of tomato product to color the broth, or a measure of pig -- bacon, sausage or ham -- the aroma will cajole a kid into at least a spoonful. And maybe the happy surprise that it tastes good.
That accomplished, the opportunity opens for the family cook to sneak in all kinds of healthful vegetables, like carrots and zucchini, and some good protein as well.
Some kids hunt down the zucchini or green beans and refuse to eat the soup at all, so the cook needs to keep this in mind and either keep the veggies well-disguised or substitute something more acceptable.
A basil-flavored swirl to finish is optional, but it surely smells good, and the cloud of herb and cheese further serves to disguise the produce.
When I think of mushroom soup, I like one flavored deeply of the forest. To do that, a cook needs to add a few things. First, a bunch of different dark-brown mushrooms to the basic white ones. Second, garlic. And third, a few dried mushrooms. They can usually be found hiding somewhere in the produce section along with other dried things like raisins and nuts. A bit expensive, it only takes a very small amount to pump up the flavor quotient.
Dried mushrooms need to be reconstituted in a bowl of warm stock or water or even wine. Leave them to soften for about an hour. Then take the mushrooms out of the bowl and chop finely. Strain the crumbs out of the stock or wine, and pour it into the soup, and simmer a few minutes longer to give it a further boost.
The beef stock doesn’t need to be homemade. Just choose a packaged one that you like.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound white mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
1/2 pound any type dark mushrooms, e.g. crimini, Portobello, etc., cleaned and chopped
2 tablespoons dried mushrooms, reconstituted and finely chopped and their juices (optional)
3 to 4 cups favorite beef stock
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
6 to 8 mint leaves, chopped
4 thick slices of a French-style baguette
Heat the oil in saucepan. Chop all of the mushrooms into small pieces. Saute until lightly browned, about 5 to 7 minutes; add salt and pepper to taste. Chop the garlic and parsley together. Add them and the reconstituted, chopped dried mushrooms with their juices, if using, to the pot. Cook, stirring just until the garlic gives up its fragrance, about 2 minutes. Add the beef stock to the pot. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove about half of the solids from the pot. Puree in the food processor and return to the pot. Stir in the chopped mint so that it flavors the pot while the croutons toast. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
To make croutons and serve the soup: Toast the baguette slices. Rub one side of each one with the garlic clove. Put one crouton into bottom of each bowl; pour in the hot soup.
French-Style Vegetable Soup
Adjust the list of vegetables included below: add your favorites or substitute others that you know won’t be acceptable to the kids. If you suspect that the basil sauce (pistou) below will scare off the kiddies, add the fresh herbs directly to the soup pot. Leave them on the stem so you can fish them out easily before the kids catch sight of them.
2 leeks, cleaned, trimmed, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 pound ham or bacon, cut into matchsticks
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 zucchini, trimmed and diced
2 russet potatoes, peeled, rinsed, diced
1 can small white beans (navy or cannellini), drained and rinsed
6 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
Salt, ground pepper, to taste
1-1/2 quarts chicken stock
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and diced
Heat the oil in a large heavy pot; add leeks, ham or bacon, carrots, onions, and celery. Cook over low heat, stirring, for 15 minutes. Add garlic, zucchini, potatoes, white beans, tomatoes, and black pepper. Cook, stirring, 10 minutes. Pour in stock; bring pot to a boil, stirring. Add green beans; lower heat. Cover soup and simmer, 1 1/2 hours. Vegetables should be falling-apart tender. Taste for seasoning. Makes 8 servings.
FRENCH BASIL SAUCE
2 cups basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup Parmesan
1/4 cup olive oil
Pinch sea salt
In a food processor, work the basil and garlic until finely chopped. Add the cheese and pulse once or twice. With the motor running, add the oil in a thin stream. Taste and add the salt. Serve the vegetable soup, above, with a dollop of this sauce.
Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@aol.com. Read Linda’s blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.