Broccoli cheese soup sounds like something that your college or office cafeteria would dump from an industrial-sized can into an enormous vat once a week or so, inspiring you to say, “Oh I guess I didn’t want soup after all today.” And if you did make the mistake of ordering it, your stomach would feel vaguely upset and there’d be a bad taste in your mouth for the rest of the afternoon.
It’s one of those dishes that I considered pretty much beyond redemption (if I considered it at all) until two events coalesced. First, my friend Lacey went on a low-carb vegetarian diet. Considering that many of the dishes I cook for her revolve around rice and/or beans, this was a challenge albeit a welcome one since it gave me an opportunity (ie excuse) to read even more cook books and recipes than I already read. Broccoli cheese soup is just about perfect for this diet. Second, Cook’s Illustrated ran a broccoli cheese soup recipe this month that actually sounded good.
It turned out to be a revelation. The substance it produced in no way resembled the gluey, bland substance that oozes out of a super market soup can. It was instead fresh, flavorful and, most shocking of all, probably pretty healthy, especially since it contains a large amount of broccoli and a minimal amount of cheese. Nor does it contain cream, although you wouldn’t guess it from the smooth texture. Finally, it is probably one of the prettiest soups I have made. Canned cream-based soups take on the pallor of a drunk’s complexion at closing time. This Cook’s Illustrated version is a bright broccoli green that reminded me that spring is around the corner.
Broccoli Cheese Soup
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, March & April 2011
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds broccoli, florets chopped to one-inch pieces, stems peeled and cut into 1/4 inch slinces
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 and 1/2 tsp dried mustard powder
pinch cayenne pepper
3-4 cups water
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 cups vegetable broth
2 ounces spinach (I used frozen and didn’t even need to thaw it)
3 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese (about 3/4 cup) (I used low-fat)
1 and1/2 ounce Parmesan cheese grated fine (3/4 cup)
ground black pepper
Heat butter in Dutch oven over medium high heat. When foaming subsides, add broccoli, onion, garlic, dry mustard, cayenne and 1 tsp salt. Cook, stirring frequently, 6 minutes. Add 1 cup water and baking soda. Bring to simmer, cover and cook on low 20 minutes, until broccoli is very soft.
Add broth and 2 cups water. Increase to medium high. When water simmers, add spinach and cook until it wilts.
Add cheeses. Puree soup using a hand-held blender or a processor or regular blender. (I used a handheld blender). Once the soup is pureed, return it to a simmer. Cook’s Illustrated suggests adding up to 1 cup of additional water to adjust the consistency. I didn’t add any. Add pepper and additional salt to taste. Serve with extra Parmesan.