Well, the heat has officially been turned on here and I am back to the fall I remember from growing up (Maryland fall is quite warm). I can't say I'm exactly welcoming it, since I'm already pining forlornly for ripe, juicy stone fruit and sweet, vibrant strawberries, but there are a few things I enjoy about fall. The cooler weather opens up the possibility of soup for lunch, which I love because it's one of the few things I can make in large batches without getting sick of, and it reheats like a dream. I generally dislike leftovers because I often find reheated food to be a sad imitation of its former self. What once was vibrant is muted, crisp turns to mush. Naturally, this makes lunch a challenge. In fact, a lot of the inspiration for this blog so far has been a desire for lunch foods that either do not require heating or stand up well to the microwave. I think this soup will certainly do the trick.
I adore broccoli in all forms, and cheddar is one of my favorite cheeses, making broccoli cheddar soup one of my favorites. However, I dislike that some people purée their soup so there are no (or few) chunks. It doesn't feel like a substantial meal to me without a little chewing. Another gripe I have is that both the broccoli and cheddar flavors can sometimes become watered down once heated and mixed with broth and milk or cream. If you're going to basically eat a bowl of cheese and cream with a few vegetables in it, I think you should really make it worthwhile. To resolve these issues, I made a number of alterations to the standard picture:
- My absolute favorite way to prepare broccoli is to roast the living heck out of it, until it's dark brown and crunchy on top, just a hair away from being burned. If you haven't tried this, go do it. Now. I'll wait. Incorporating this flavor into the soup was a no-brainer, so I roasted the florets and tossed them in at the end. As an added bonus, I got the chunky component I craved.
- I learned not too long ago that broccoli stalks are completely edible (duh), and that they cook up nicely if you peel away the tough outer skin. I decided to use the stalks in the more traditional manner. I simmered them in the soup until tender, and they were puréed along with the soup base. In this way I still maintained the creamy, smooth soup base as well as a brighter, fresher broccoli flavor.
- To make sure the cheese flavor shone through without using an obscene amount (though no judgment if you go that route), I used extra-sharp cheddar. I actually almost always use extra-sharp cheddar since I like my cheeses pungent, but here I felt it was particularly important.
- Finally, I decided to switch up the aromatics a bit. I used far more garlic than most people probably would, and used leeks instead of onions. Nothing against onions, I just thought the leeks really worked here. This actually came about because I happened to have some leeks on hand the first time I made broccoli cheddar soup, and I was concerned that the recipe I was using would be too bland without them (which it most certainly would have).
The leeks also offered me the opportunity to have some fun with garnishes, so I julienned the dark green leaves and fried them in olive oil. That's right, we're using the whole buffalo today*.
This soup does take a little more time than some recipes might and probably generates a few extra dishes, but that makes it a lovely activity for a cold, dreary day like we have today in Ann Arbor. Plus, there's some downtime while the soup simmers, so curl up with a good book (or maybe a few episodes of Good Eats or Iron Chef, which I recently discovered are on Netflix!) and get ready to hibernate until at least April. Sigh.
* Do you think that expression means anything to non-Americans?
Roasted Broccoli and Cheddar Soup
Yield: 4-6 servings
2 medium heads of broccoli, with stalks
Few tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup butter
1 medium leek1, white and light green parts cut into thin half-moons, dark green part reserved
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup flour
1 cup milk
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste
Cayenne pepper, optional and to taste
5 oz (about 1 1/2 cups) extra-sharp cheddar, plus a small pile for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 425. Peel the broccoli stalks to reveal the tender green flesh underneath. Slice the stalks into 1/4-1/2-inch disks, and cut each disk into quarters. You should have about 1 3/4 cups of stalks (anything from 1 1/2 to 2 cups should be fine). Chop the rest of the broccoli into little bitty florets.
- Toss the broccoli with enough olive oil to coat the florets in a roasting pan or on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper and place in the oven to roast for 20-25 minutes, until deeply browned and crispy.
- While the broccoli cooks, melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, toss in the leeks and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the white parts turn translucent. Add in the garlic and cook for about a minute, until the garlic is aromatic but not browned.
- Stir in the flour and cook for 4-5 minutes to cook off the raw flour taste. Add the milk and stir for a minute or two, until thickened.
- Dump in the broth and stir to combine. The soup may look kind of lumpy and gross at this point, but it'll all sort itself out. Just keep stirring and switch to a whisk if you need.
- Bring the soup to a vigorous simmer, then turn down the heat and cook at a bare simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes, until slightly thickened.
- Season the soup with salt2, pepper, and cayenne pepper, and add the broccoli stalks. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the broccoli is crisp-tender.
- While the soup simmers, julienne one of the dark green leek leaves and heat a tbsp of olive oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add the leeks and fry until brown and crisp, 1-2 minutes. Set aside to drain on paper towels.
- Purée the soup either with an immersion blender or a regular blender and return to the pot over medium heat. Add the cheese and stir until the cheese is melted and integrated into the soup.
- Stir in the roasted broccoli florets and heat through.
- Serve immediately, garnished with a big pinch of cheese and the fried leek greens3.
- If we're being totally honest here, I have no idea what sorts of sizes leeks come in. I had a cup of chopped leek, so shoot for something in that vicinity.
- You'll need to use your judgment here. I used unsalted broth, and my cheese wasn't super salty. I probably added about 2-2 1/2 tsp salt, but if you're using salted broth and/or salted cheese, adjust accordingly.
- I used these as a garnish, as described, but I really liked them and I had plenty more leaves, so I'll probably add more when I eat the rest of the soup.