Soup in many guises remains a comfort food

January 07, 1998|By Charles Pierce | Charles Pierce,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

Soup is without a doubt the ultimate comfort food. Whether it's a simple, clear broth or an exotic variation brimming with enticing ingredients, the taste, texture and deeply satisfying aroma of a favorite soup seem to linger in our memory long after the meal.

Everybody loves soup and nearly all of us have comforting childhood memories associated with it. My own childhood was spent in Georgia,where we were often served a soup laden with garden-fresh butter beans, plump tomatoes, okra and lots of just-picked corn. Served with warm corn bread for supper, it was a family favorite that assured my mother we were eating a healthful dose of vegetables.

My love affair with soup hasn't faded, because soup can take on innumerable guises. It can be prepared with simple ingredients that happen to be on hand, or it can be as exotic as your imagination and local gourmet market allow. And when fresh local ingredients are in high season, soup is the perfect way to celebrate the best of nature's bounty.

The Minestrone recipe below is my favorite rendition of a much-loved soup that has endless variations. Feel free to use other vegetables that look especially fresh or are the pick of the season.

In the second recipe, the savory lamb meatballs are a perfect partner for the clean-tasting broth. They can be prepared ahead and frozen for up to a month. Simply thaw them in the refrigerator before adding them to the soup.

G; (Excerpted from "Comfort Food: Soup" by Charles Pierce)

Minestrone

Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 carrots, chopped

1 onion, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1 pound tomatoes, seeded and chopped

6 cups chicken broth

1 cup small cauliflower florets

1 large zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/4 pound slender green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch pieces

1 cup cooked cannellini beans

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

In a large nonreactive pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add carrots, onion, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for 3 to 5 minutes, until onion is softened. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes. Pour in the stock, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until reduced.

Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add cauliflower, zucchini and green beans. As soon as the water returns to a boil, drain the vegetables.

Stir the cauliflower, zucchini, green beans and cannellini beans into the soup; season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until vegetables are just tender. Stir in the basil and ladle into bowls, passing the Parmesan separately.

Meatball Soup With Rice

Serves 6

LAMB MEATBALLS:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

3/4 pound ground lamb

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

FOR SOUP

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup long-grain rice

8 cups chicken stock or broth

2 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 cup tiny broccoli florets

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

Prepare lamb meatballs: In a small skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes, or until onion is softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute longer, until fragrant. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a large bowl, combine lamb, bread crumbs, egg, salt and pepper. Add cooled onion mixture and stir until well blended. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. (The meatball mixture can be prepared up to one day in advance.)

Using a melon baller or measuring teaspoon, roll about 60 olive-size meatballs. Place meatballs on a large plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate.

In a large pot, melt butter over medium high heat. Add rice and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, or until translucent. Pour in the stock, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes, or until rice is tender.

Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add carrots and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until barely tender. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the carrots to a colander and cool under cold running water. Add broccoli to the saucepan. As soon as the water returns to a boil, transfer the broccoli to the colander with the carrots and cool under cold running water. Set aside.

Add the meatballs to the broth, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until meatballs are no longer pink. Add carrots and broccoli, cover, and cook for 5 minutes longer, or until heated through. Season the soup with salt and pepper, stir in parsley, and ladle into large bowls.

Pub Date: 1/07/98

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