NOW THAT CHILLY WEATHER LOOMS, the healthy soup and salad routine is back in season. For a delicious twist, try sparking the tried and true old formulas with some flavor magic -- namely wines.
The fact is that the grape can make almost any soup a more sophisticated item. And it needn't be champagne, Clos de Vougeot or Chateau St. Jean wine to do the trick. In fact, the simpler wines, not the big names, are what you should look for.
The sparing touch is also appropriate. I have long been a fan of the "teaspoon is enough" school when it comes to romancing a soup with wine. Just drop in a spoon of sherry when you are ready to serve that hot clear broth or that creamy chicken concoction.
There are other ways of using wines and spirits to expand flavor horizons. I love what a nice quiet white wine does with potato soups, hot or cold. The stout reds, and not much of them, can be added direct at almost any stage to beef soup and stew concoctions.
Below, a red wine escorts a complex split pea soup into the ranks of a gourmet treat, but split pea purees and soups can also take on semisweet wine to good effect. A split pea concoction with a Moselle or a Gewurztraminer is one great combination; mushroom soup with Vouvray or sauterne is another.
An easy way to test what a wine does to a soup is to try it with a good brand of the canned stuff. Take black bean soup, for instance, add enough beef stock to make it soupy, plus a teaspoon of sherry for each serving, heat and serve with your choice of chopped onion, sour cream, shredded bacon bits or grated hard-cooked eggs (but not all at once, please) and see what happens. It'll never win awards, but it will turn that black-bean flavor around and dance with it.
Most homemade soups are wonderfully and completely freezable and this fact should encourage cooks not to worry about leftover problems.
Here are some tips on wine soup preparation:
*Cinnamon sticks are a frequent addition to fruit soup formulas (take out before serving) and can give a hearty accent to same.
*Vermouth can stand in for sherry in many soup recipes. It is also useful as a marinade in preparing ingredients for soups and stews.
*Marinating chopped meats, fish and vegetables before soup preparation is a sophisticated way of introducing elegant flavors into standard or classic soup recipes.
*In general, the same table wines that match up with foods of a kind will be the ones to choose for your soups: reds for meat-based broths, whites for poultry stocks, etc.
*Champagne or sparkling wine that has gone flat makes great seasoning.
I like this simple but effective fruit soup that is roundly shaped with red wine. It's easily made a day ahead. You can substitute cornstarch for the more elegant arrowroot, if necessary, and frozen raspberries for fresh raspberries. The formula is from "Soup, Salad and Pasta Innovations," by Karen Lee with Alaxandra Branyon. Double or triple amounts and try it as a surprise soup-dessert for a luncheon or dinner party.
Cold raspberry soup
Serves three or four.
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick cinnamon
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons water
2 cups raspberries, (or 1 10-ounce package of frozen raspberries)
1 tablespoon arrowroot
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup dry red wine
In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the sugar, the cinnamon stick and 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the raspberries and simmer another 5 minutes.
In a small cup, dissolve the arrowroot in the 2 tablespoons of cold water. Add this mixture to the simmering soup. Stir in a figure-eight motion to reach the center of the saucepan for about minutes or until the soup is clear. Pour the soup into a glass bowl. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. Before serving take out the cinnamon. Stir in the cream and the red wine. Combine well. Serve cold.
Everybody makes split pea soup, but this richly complex one with its elegant touch of red wine would make a fine centerpiece for a luncheon party. The only exotic, hard-to-find ingredient is the sesame oil, and here I might try about 1/2 teaspoon of fine ground sesame seed added during the final simmer to give roughly equivalent flavor. This is the heroic Beethoven of the split pea trade, and it's from "The Complete Book of Soups and Stews" by Bernard Clayton Jr.
Green split pea soup with wine
1 pound green split peas, washed and drained
5 or 6 cups of water, depending on consistency desired
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup minced onions
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup minced celery
1 medium potato, thinly sliced
2 cups thinly sliced carrots
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon thyme
several drops of dark sesame oil (very potent)
3 tablespoons vinegar
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
freshly ground black pepper to taste