Thursday, October 2, 2008
Soup by the bathtubful
I could have devoted my entire blog to soup. I love soup: making it and eating it. I am not alone.
I recently purchased a cookbook written by Pierre and Janet Berton, The Centennial Food Guide, published in 1966. According to his wife, Pierre – Canada’s renowned historian and author of The Last Spike – was smitten with soup, requiring 3 or 4 bowlfuls a day. The first page of text in the cookbook, sandwiched in between the table of contents and the introduction, is a recipe for “Janet’s Soup”, under which is inscribed: “The male editor of this book unconditionally guarantees this soup. In twenty years of marriage he has drunk bathtubfuls of it. Moreover he has never seen anyone content with but a single bowl. It demands seconds, thirds and even fourths, which is why we urge that it be made is vast quantities.”
Certainly the Berton household required “vast quantities” of anything given the nine-member family vying for sustenance. Janet’s Soup is somewhat of a time capsule, requiring one large beef heart to prepare the stock and, among other oddities, Angostura bitters and monosodium glutamate for flavouring. While I doubt I’ll ever make Janet’s Soup, Pierre’s resounding endorsement notwithstanding, I do heartily appreciate the intensity of sentiment surrounding this family favourite.
Which brings me to my love of soup. Were it not for summer heat and humidity, conditions which apparently did not affect the Bertons as they do me, I too would eat soup every day. (I can’t abide chilled soups, no matter how hard I try.) The arrival of fall is the return of soup: comforting, savoury, and inspiring soup.
Making and eating soup is a commitment to an idea of how to sustain oneself: completely, and in one bowlful. The restorative properties of soup were its original marketing strategy. The French origin of “restaurant” apparently comes from “restaurer”, the term applied to the Parisian street vendors who exclusively sold soup, an inexpensive concentrated broth they claimed was the antidote to physical exhaustion. The notion of frugality is often applied to soup, but I like to think that economy is a matter of stripping life of anything extraneous, leaving behind what is essential and indisputable. Perhaps this is why I love soup: it is an exercise in selection.
I mentioned in my last post that I reserve my homemade chicken broth for vegetable soups. These are soups that require usually two or three ingredients in addition to the stock. They are quick, simple and hearty. This is one I have been making and enjoying now that fall is truly upon us. The Romano beans are a lovely pinkish brown and have a rich flavour and the kale is a robust complement. To “kick it up a notch,” fry some diced bacon or pancetta with the garlic to add smoky flavour to an already divine soup.
ROMANO BEAN AND KALE SOUP
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 14-oz can Romano beans, rinsed and drained (or white kidney, or Borlotti)
750 mL chicken stock
1 Tbsp chopped herbs (rosemary, thyme, parsley, or 1 tsp dried)
1 cup kale, finely chopped
salt & pepper
In a medium soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add the garlic, cooking until the garlic is fragrant. Add the beans, stirring to coat with the oil. Heat for one minute. Add the stock and herbs, bring to a boil, then simmer with the lid on for 15-20 minutes.
Using an immersion blender of the back of a spoon, pulverize some of the beans to thicken the soup base. Do not purée: there should be some whole beans left in the soup.
Add the kale and simmer 5 minutes longer until the kale is tender. If soup is too thick, add more stock. Season with salt and pepper. Serve and finish with extra virgin olive oil (optional).