Simple Soup for a Cold Day

When the weather is bleak, soup and bread are the ultimate comfort foods.

EUGENIA UHL PHOTOGRAPHS

On a raw, cloudy and dreary day with a cold north wind howling outside, there are few things more comforting and welcoming than the aroma rising from a soup pot simmering on the back of the stove. A warm kitchen filled with the smell of meats, vegetables and seasonings mingling in a flavorful broth calls up pleasant and heartwarming memories.

It is no accident that soup is a mainstay of monasteries around the world or that it figures in so many meals during Lent. Soup is more than food; it nourishes the soul as well as the body. Although they constitute one of the most basic categories of foods, soups can become overly complex to the point that only professional chefs can prepare them and only the wealthy can enjoy them. But by that point, they have become baubles of conspicuous consumption, bearing no relation to the honest and homey broths that sustain us in our hours of need, whether in sickness or in health.

Soup and its closest companion, bread, are often uttered in the same breath, so it is no wonder that bread of some type is the natural accompaniment to soup. Nor should it be surprising that the aroma of bread baking in the oven is right up there with the aroma of soup as a harbinger of comfort and satisfaction. A pot of soup on the stove, a loaf of bread in the oven — the combined aromas are almost too wonderful to bear.

The soup recipes I’m including this month are all simple and fairly quick to prepare. With the exception of the butter bean-and-ham soup, which takes the better part of two hours, they can all be ready in an hour or less, including both preparation and cooking time. The bread recipe takes a little longer, but having hot, homemade bread with your soup is worth the wait.
 

Corn-and-Crab Bisque

Unlike many recipes for the soup, this version uses no flour. Instead, a portion of the corn and broth is pureed in a blender to serve as a thickener in place of a roux. If you prefer a richer soup, substitute heavy cream for the half-and-half.

4 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 cups chicken stock or broth
3 cups frozen corn kernels
1 cup half-and-half
1 pound lump crabmeat
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste
Chopped parsley for garnish


Melt butter in a heavy pot. Add onion and celery, and simmer on low heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Add chicken stock and corn. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Transfer 2 cups of the mixture to a blender, and purée. Return purée to the pot, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add half-and-half and crabmeat, and simmer until heated through. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Garnish each serving with chopped parsley. Serves 4 to 6.

Sweet Potato Soup

If you would like to add a note of sophistication, garnish this soup with lightly whipped unsweetened cream and some snipped chives or chopped parsley, but it’s very good without any embellishment.

4 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
6 cups chicken stock or broth
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Melt butter in a large, heavy pot. Add onions, and cook on low heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Add chicken stock and sweet potatoes; bring to a boil; and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
Working in batches, purée soup in blender until smooth. Reheat, and season with salt and pepper. Serves 6 to 8.

Winter Vegetable Soup

This has become one of my favorite seasonal soups. With good bread, it is substantial enough to make a meal. Use enough cayenne pepper to give the soup a little kick, providing a contrast to the sweetness of the vegetables.

8 cups chicken stock or broth
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 medium onions
1 pound carrots
1 pound parsnips
1 pound turnips
2 pounds pumpkin or winter squash
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste
Olive oil to taste


Combine stock and tomato paste in a large, heavy pot, and bring to a boil. Chop onions, and add to pot. Peel carrots, cut into chunks, and add to pot. Peel parsnips, slice, and add to pot. Peel turnips, cut into chunks, and add to pot. Peel pumpkin or winter squash, cut into chunks, and add to pot. Simmer until vegetables are tender. Season with salt, black pepper and cayenne. When serving, add a tablespoon or two of your best olive oil to each bowl of soup. Serves 6.

Butter Bean-and-Ham Soup

Opinions vary on what constitutes a true butter bean. As nearly as I can tell, the term is a distinctly Southern one and is used to describe a number of different varieties of bean. Here, I’m using large dried lima beans, but other varieties will work, as well. If you have a ham bone, by all means, add it to the pot.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
8 cups ham or chicken stock
1 pound dried butter beans
2 cups cubed ham
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped green onion tops

In a large, heavy pot, combine olive oil, onion, garlic, celery and bell pepper, and cook on low heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Add stock, beans, ham, bay leaf and thyme; bring to a boil; reduce heat; and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, about 90 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add parsley and onion tops. Serves 4 to 6.
 

A Simple White Loaf

This is bread-making at its most basic, but the result is delicious and satisfying.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
1 cup warm water (120 to 130 degrees)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine dry ingredients, and mix well. With mixer running, add water in a slow, steady stream, and continue mixing until dough forms a ball.

Remove dough, and knead briefly. Oil mixing bowl, add ball of dough, and turn to coat with oil. Cover bowl with a damp towel, and place in a warm spot to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Remove dough, and knead briefly. Form into a rectangular loaf, and place in a lightly greased loaf pan. Cover with a damp towel, and place in a warm spot to rise until almost doubled, about 1 hour.

Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven until nicely browned, about 45 minutes. Remove bread from pan, and cool on a rack. Serves 4 to 6.
 

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