Sometimes, restaurants make my life difficult. This generally happens when the offer both clam chowder and broccoli cheddar soup, and I have a very hard time choosing.
One of my favorite jobs ever was working as a General Dogsbody at one of the drug stores in my home town. The store had a pharmacy, a lunch counter, and a really fantastic music section (because the owner loved music (he wore concert Ts under his pharmacy whites), and there was nowhere else in town to buy any. We used to joke that it was a drugs, sex, and rock-and-roll sort of place.) As General Dogsbody, I helped everywhere. I did the filing for the pharmacist. I worked the front counter. I typed up insurance billing. I managed a used book section. I supervised yearly inventory. And, I helped in the lunch counter.
The creative spoon behind the lunch counter was a glorious woman named Bea. She was grandma-aged when she opened the lunch counter, having grown tired of cooking for only her Tall, Blonde, and Definitely Northern Neanderthal husband, Thor. Really. His parents saw their baby son and said, “Yes, we shall name him THOR.” And then he grew up to fill out a Thor-sized name. So you know Bea had some pretty prodigious cooking skills to keep up with him.
Bea kept two soups on the menu every day. One would be made fresh in the morning, the other held over from the day before. Sometimes, the held-over soup didn’t sell out the second day, and she’d always send it home with me. Since there were 92 million of us at home, plus friends and strays that tended to show up around supper time, a half-gallon of really terrific soup was always welcome to fill in the cracks.
And guess which two were the most seductive?
Clam Chowder. Broccoli Cheddar.
So, it’s Bea’s fault. And restaurants. And don’t tell me you can make a good Broccoli Cheddar soup from a can, or with any canned ingredients. It’s just Not Possible. It might even have to go on the list of Minor Abominations (along with honey ham. Pleh.)
I found this broccoli cheddar soup recipe online recently, adapted it just a tad to suit my own tastes, and then sat down with Lefty, Spicy, and The Boy and snarfed the whole pot. That’s in addition to the serious snarf-raiding that went on as The Boy “quality tested” near the finish.
The whole pot takes only about 40 minutes from start to finish (particularly if you tend to prep cheese and store it grated in the fridge (but don’t use the pre-grated packaged stuff, because the coating makes the soup glutinous, and that’s gross)), and I’m looking forward to enjoying it through the fall and winter. In fact, I’d like to do up a batch that incorporates cauliflower as well. Don’t tell the minions.
This recipe makes about five to six cups of thick, creamy soup, more or less.
Start by sautéing some aromatics (most soups start this way) over medium heat, in this case:
- 1/4 cup butter
- half a large onion, or a whole medium onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced fine (or, about 1 teaspoon minced garlic) (you won’t taste a strong garlic flavor in the finished soup, but it really adds depth to the dish, so don’t skip this.)
When the onions have gotten soft and translucent, whisk in:
- 1/4 cup flour (stir it about for a minute)
- 1 cup milk (or, in my case, half-and-half. It’s what I had in the fridge. Ooooooh, decadence!)
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (I used a cube of Mexican chicken bouillon, because again, that’s what I had on hand. Homemade frozen broth is a great option for this. Don’t use the bouillon marketed to Americans, though, because the Franken-celery flavor is too strong.)
- a dash of ground nutmeg (I know, it sounds weird. But do it. Unless you’re allergic to nutmeg.)
Whisk that all up and get it steaming, but not bubbling. Turn the heat down to low. Then toss in:
- about 1/2 pound of fresh broccoli florets, chopped and chunky (and of course, you could do more if you like)
- about 1/2 cup fine-grated carrot. (Again, this sounds weird, but it works. The carrot adds a nice sweet element to the soup, and gives it a really good yellow color. Fine-grated carrot will just about melt into the broth by the time you’re done. You could also do tiny dices if you want to see the carrot in the final soup.)
Cover the pot and let it simmer, stirring a few times, for about 20-25 minutes, until the veggies are nice and tender. You could also stop the soup at this point, and chill it for up to 2 days, if you want a fast-finish meal later. If you’re
snarfing… erm, dining soon, then go ahead and add:
- 8 ounces (about 2 cups) grated sharp cheddar cheese. Do not use medium for this; it lacks enough punch and flavor.
- 4 ounces (about 1 cup) grated Monteray jack cheese. This adds a very creamy finish to the soup.
- Salt and pepper to taste. If you used bouillon, you probably won’t need salt, but a bit of fresh-cracked tri-color pepper is really nice. You could also add a dash of hot pepper sauce if you like things a bit zippy.
It’s very important that once the cheese is in, you do not let the soup boil. Simply stir, and let the hot, creamy broth melt the cheeses.
If you boil it, the soup will “break” and you end up with kind of curdy broth, which, you have to admit, sounds gross. It’s grainy in your mouth, too, which feels gross. You can sometimes save the soup by whirring it in a blender (in small amounts), but that’s a big, messy hassle, and you can avoid it by just being a little patient and sticking with quite LOW heat.
Over that very low heat, let the soup sit and marry for about 10 minutes, covered. You could hold it on warm in a crock pot, too, if you’re serving a crowd and need the burner space.
Then, dish yourself up a bowl, and try to let it cool a few minutes before you dive in. Melted cheese broth makes for some serious tongue scorching, and scorched “taste bugs” are really miserable. A bit of garlic toast or a nice roll to dunk is a great option, as are homemade English muffins.
Go forth and snarf soup!