My grandmother in Gröden in South Tyrol likes to say, “Wer viel Suppe isst, lebt lange”, or “She who eats soup lives longer”. She recently turned 96, and is still cooking three whole meals a day for both her son and grandson (not to mention herself), so I’ll take her word for it. Soups come in many different varieties and lend themselves to seasonal adaptation better than most any other dish you can cook. Whether a simple clear broth or a hearty soup stew (like a goulash or bean soup), soups are both easy to make and healthy. Soups warm the body, causing good blood circulation, and their aroma, fragrance and seasonings stimulate the secretion of digestive juices, a plus for good digestion!
The basic ingredient (and pre-requisite) for a good soup is a decent broth or stock made from chicken, beef, fish or vegetable. To make a good broth from scratch start with decent meat (or fish or vegetables), don’t let it boil too hard for too long (gently simmer for a few hours), and skim off the frothy top (that’s the fat). And if you are going to bother to make it from scratch (Jessica uses natural cubes bought at the store, but where’s the fun in that?) make a lot as it freezes beautifully (keep it in the freezer for up to three months), and is a terrific staple for many quick fix last minute meals (show me someone who ever turned down some homemade chicken broth with fresh carrots, celery, and pasta).
Jessica and I focus our soup making efforts in three different categories. It might take some practice, but getting proficient in at least one soup in each of these categories will save you from having to think about dinner for at least a few nights a week. If you’re just embarking on a soup adventure, don’t be discouraged by the different types of soup; simply pick a category and experiment for a while. The other types will be waiting to join you when you are done!
Soups ala Kathrin and Jessica
- Clear Soups: Clear soups served with what we call in German “Einlagen”. Put simply, Einlage is something you add to the soup to make it fuller such a rice, noodles, or dumplings. A great example from my home is stracciatella soup, terrific to make when you have some good quality chicken broth at hand. Bring the broth to a boil, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir the broth with a fork in a circular motion while you pour a lightly beaten egg mixed with some parmigiano cheese into the pot, mixing gently to firm thin strands of egg, cooking for about 1 minute. To make it a meal, add a cup or two of fresh spinach leaves at the end.
- Creamy Vegetable Soups (sans cream, if you’re Jessica!): Creamy vegetable soups can be made with just about any vegetable you have available that day. We’ve got a few recipes for these soups in the Recipe section, but it’s not really that hard to master and adapt. Start by sautéing onion in some olive oil then add the vegetables and brown, adding salt to taste. The browning will infuse the fat with the flavors of the vegetable. Next add broth or water (or water with a vegetable cube, if you have a quality one in the house), bringing the liquid to a boil before reducing the heat to gently cook the soup until the vegetables are cooked through. Use a hand-held mixer (or countertop blender) to blend the soup until smooth. The creamy consistency can be achieved by dusting the roasted vegetables with a tablespoon or two of flour (my approach to creaminess), by adding a potato to thicken the soup (Jessica’s preferred method), or by following my mother’s lead and refining the soup with a little sauce (béchamel) consisting of butter, flour and milk.
- Chunky Soups (or Stews): Chunky soups are really hearty one-pot dishes that have been around for centuries, and are usually based on a protein such as meat or beans, into which is added vegetables and a grain. Chunky soups are perfect for the slow-cooker as the taste of these delicacies improve over time. A minestrone soup that includes a little bit of every vegetable you have in your house is good as an appetizer, or main dish if it includes some noodles and rice.
Daunting though it may sound to prepare a soup from scratch, these wonderful dishes are perfect vitamin rich, easy prep meals. Here are a few of our favorite standards, but don’t forget, we’ve got lots of soup recipes in the Recipe section for you to try, so give it a whirl and Come and Cook with Us!