Simply Soup

Cold weather means it's time to put some soup on the stove.

Focus On Food

January 16, 2000|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

When temperatures dip and noses get a nip, it's prime time for soup. Almost anything that tastes good by itself can be incorporated into soup -- probably things you have right now in your pantry or refrigerator. Soup is simple, warming, nourishing and filling, and if you make it yourself, you can control the amount of fat and salt. Here are some tips for creating flavorful soups.

Soup-worthy ideas

Although soup can be made from just about anything -- including water and stones in the folk tale -- the best ingredients will produce the best soup.

Use broth instead of water, or a mixture of broth and water, to give the flavor body. If something has to be cooked first, such as potatoes or rice, cook it in broth, or part broth, rather than just water. The broth doesn't have to be homemade, but read the label carefully before you buy commercial brands. Some are high in fat and most are shockingly high in sodium. Taste the broth you are using to see how salty it is; you may not need to add additional salt.

If you use good ingredients, you don't need a lot of seasoning. Add seasonings in small increments, then taste and adjust.

Don't cut main ingredients, such as chicken or mushrooms, into too small pieces. If you're pureeing the soup, the size of the pieces won't matter; if you're not, larger bites will give the soup heft and give your teeth something to do.

Try to cook each ingredient only as long as it needs to be done, by adding things in stages. Simmering at the end, or making the soup a day ahead and reheating, will blend the flavors.

Experiment with unusual ingredients. Chinese noodles in chicken and noodles, some parsnips or turnips in potato soup, Gorgonzola, mozzarella or brie instead of Cheddar in cheese soup.

Try different oils, such as hazelnut or sesame, to saute ingredients.

Some soups need a tiny, last touch of balancing acidity -- a few drops of red wine, white wine, sherry or raspberry vinegar, a touch of lemon or lime juice. Use a light hand, and taste, taste, taste.

If the soup is too salty, or the taste balance is dominated by one ingredient (too much oregano?) add more water or broth. Taste and re-season if necessary. You can always freeze the leftovers.

Mother's Chicken and Noodles

Serves 6 to 8

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 3 1/2-4-pound chicken, preferably free-range, cut up water or chicken stock (or a combination; see note)

3/4 pound of wide egg noodles

1-2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1/2-1 teaspoon herbes de Provence (optional)

Place the vegetable oil in the bottom of a stock pot or large pot. Add the onions and saute until barely translucent. Add the chicken, or chicken pieces and add 4 cups of broth (add water if necessary to cover chicken). Add salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring liquid to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until chicken is tender. Remove chicken from liquid, and remove meat from bones and shred. Put aside. Skim fat from broth. Add the noodles to the pot and simmer until they are almost, but not quite, al dente. Return the chicken pieces to the pot and continue to simmer briefly while you taste the broth and adjust the seasoning. This is such a simple dish it doesn't require a lot of seasoning; however, if you think it's too bland, add a sprinkle of herbes de Provence to taste.

Note: If you use canned chicken stock, check for salt content. If it is very salty, you might not need to add more.

Fresh Tomato and Roasted Shallot Soup

Serves 4

1 shallot, finely chopped

2 teaspoons olive oil

6-7 medium tomatoes, preferably organic or hydroponic, peeled, quartered, and seeded

1 14 1/2-ounce can plum tomatoes, preferably all-natural

2 cups chicken broth

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1-2 teaspoons sugar 8 ounces sour cream (optional)

Put the canned tomatoes into a large sieve over a bowl to catch the liquid. In a large pan or pot, saute the shallots in the olive oil over low heat until golden; do not burn them. Add the chopped fresh tomatoes, and the drained liquid from the canned tomatoes, to the pan. Add 2 cups of broth. Rinse the drained tomatoes, removing as many seeds as possible. Add the canned tomatoes to the pan. Bring liquid to a boil. Reduce heat, add salt and pepper and simmer to blend, about 10 minutes. Sample the soup and add sugar, in increments, to taste. Adjust other seasoning, if necessary. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, if using, or place it on the table for diners to choose.

White Bean and Italian Sausage Soup With Green Onions

Serves 4 to 6

8 ounces Italian sausage, hot or mild

1 shallot, finely chopped

2 bunches of scallions (divided use)

2 teaspoons olive oil

3 cups chicken broth

1 19-ounce can cannellini beans

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon tarragon salt and pepper

Tiny sprinkle of red wine vinegar

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