Cooking, Food and Drink, Recipes

Friday Food and Drink Post: Soupçon!

I love almost any kind of soup: Thick soup, thin soup, vegetable soup, meat soup, cold soup, hot soup, clear soup, cream soup, soup with “bits” in it, smooth soup. Soup is great. A bowl of steaming chowder on a frosty day, a dish of chilled fruit soup in midsummer. Croutons. Garlic bread. Oyster crackers. Sour cream. The possibilities are limitless. And lovely.

I’m thinking about a wonderful little shopping center that opened up in Pittsburgh, I guess in the late 70s. It was called The Bank Centre, because it occupied an old bank building right in the heart of downtown. It was full of nice little boutique-y shops, many of them downstairs in the old vaults, and you had to step through the round entry-doorways, the doors of which were about 18″ thick, with metal spikes all around the edges. I always felt a bit claustrophobic down there, but it was a fun place to shop.

There were shops upstairs in the old offices too, but they weren’t as picturesque. One of them was a soup and sandwich place (can’t remember the name) where, for a buck-and-a-quarter you could get a brown bag lunch, packed to go. It consisted of a bowl of the soup du jour, a small hunk of cheese, a fresh bread roll and a piece of fruit. I loved it. I’d pick mine up almost every day, and take it across the road to eat in Market Square or Mellon Park. And I’m remembering their Chilled Pumpkin Soup, with a garnish of shelled, raw, pumpkin seeds. It was like eating a bowl of really creamy, unbaked pumpkin-pie filling (which I love).

Today’s soup recipe is served hot, but we’re still going with a largely vegetable theme. It’s Carrot Ginger Soup, very easy, quite gingery, smooth and delicious. Jenny produced the recipe decades ago, and I have no idea where it’s from. The ingredients are simple:

1 large onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
10-12 slices fresh ginger root, each about the size of a quarter
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I use Better than Bouillon)
Salt and Pepper to taste

And the preparation is straightforward:

Cook onions, garlic and ginger in butter or oil till soft but not brown
Add carrots and broth
Cover and simmer until carrots are soft

Once you get to this part, if you have a stick or immersion blender (hopefully you do), just whirl the whole lot up right in the saucepan, until smooth. If you don’t have one of these marvelous implements, then you’ll have to drain the “solids” and blitz them in the blender with a little of the broth, then mix the result back into the rest of it until smooth. (I try not to do this sort of thing more often than I have to. Moving hot liquids around from place to place with whirling knifey-things in play is just too fraught with unpredictable and unpleasant possibilities for me).

Season to taste.

That’s it! You’re done.

I like this soup because it goes well with a nice plain sandwich (egg salad, or a mild cheese is nice, because it doesn’t argue with the ginger), but it can also be done up quite elegantly in the best china, and served with a little dollop of sour cream and some chopped fresh chives on top. So you can pretend you’re at the Ritz!

Speaking of the Ritz, the most expensive bowl of soup I’ve ever eaten was consumed at this place: Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons. Had my brother’s girlfriend of the moment not been the accountant there, and received the employee discount, we couldn’t possibly have afforded a family lunch there on one of my infrequent forays to the UK. Lunch starts at about £140 ($185) per person. It’s a beautiful location. Beautiful building and grounds, peacocks wandering around, deeply-scented, old-fashioned roses. Perfect landscaping. Gracious living. But, oh my word, the price. If I recall correctly, I had a cream soup, chestnuts, wild mushrooms and parsnips. It was spectacular, but if I’m to be honest, not worth the price differential over the brown bag from The Bank Centre and their Chilled Pumpkin Soup.

So, your turn. What’s your favorite soup? Recipe? And if you care to share, what’s the most expensive, or the most pretentious place you’ve ever eaten?

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