A super soup for the time-challenged

November 25, 2006|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Tribune Media Services

Recently I came down with a bad case of laryngitis and a chest cold. The doctor told me to take it easy - he doesn't know me very well! - so for a few days I attempted to rest, read and recline. Gradually my voice returned, and I felt better. But when I looked at the calendar I noticed that we had out-of-town friends coming soon for dinner and to spend the night.

Not feeling up to a big meal, I was worried about the menu. But then I remembered a delicious fall soup I had recently prepared for a Saturday lunch. I knew immediately that fall brodo with acorn squash, chard and bacon could anchor our supper. It was light yet satisfying and filling, and uncomplicated to assemble.

The soup is based on a rich broth (the brodo in the name), but instead of spending several hours making stock from scratch, I prepare a shortcut version in a third of the usual time. I simply purchase chicken stock and simmer it for a half-hour with some fresh herbs and coarsely chopped root vegetables, including carrots, onions and celery. When strained, this "fast" stock is ready to use.

In this recipe, sauteed onions, cubed acorn squash and farfalle (bow-shaped pasta) are cooked in the rich broth until tender, then chopped Swiss chard is added and simmered a minute or two until wilted. The warm, autumn-hued potage is ladled into bowls and topped with a dusting of parmigiano reggiano and some crispy bacon.

As sides, I plan to serve a basket of warm bread - either a baguette or ciabatta - and a mixed-greens salad tossed in a red-wine vinaigrette. For dessert, I'm buying some chocolate-chip bar cookies from a local bakery and serving them with scoops of butter-pecan ice cream. It might not be chicken soup, but this delectable squash and pasta soup is just the kind of recipe to chase away the remnants of a cold.

Betty Rosbottom writes for Tribune Media Services.

FALL BRODO WITH ACORN SQUASH, CHARD AND BACON

Serves 6

For the quick, rich chicken stock:

2 quarts (8 cups) reduced-sodium chicken stock, plus a little extra if needed

2 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 medium onions, peeled, halved and cut into 1-inch slices

2 sprigs parsley

2 sprigs fresh thyme

For soup:

1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds acorn squash

1 bunch (about 3/4 pound) Swiss chard, preferably with dark-green leaves and red stalks

6 slices good-quality bacon, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces

1 1/3 cups chopped onion

1 cup farfalle (bow-tie pasta)

kosher salt

1 to 2 pinches cayenne pepper

1/2 cup coarsely grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

To prepare rich stock, place 2 quarts chicken stock, celery, carrots, onions, parsley and thyme sprigs in a large, heavy saucepan or pot (with a lid) set over medium heat. Bring mixture to a simmer, lower heat, cover and cook at a simmer for 30 minutes. Drain in a large sieve, pressing down on the vegetables and herbs to extract as much liquid as possible. Reserve the stock. You should have 8 cups stock. If not, add extra stock or water to make 8 cups. (Stock can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate.)

With a large sharp knife, halve the squash lengthwise, and scoop out and discard the seeds and membranes. Then cut each half lengthwise into 4 segments. With a vegetable peeler or sharp knife, peel the segments, then cut them into 3/4 -inch cubes. Set aside.

Rinse the chard and pat dry. Cut off and discard the stalks. If the ribs on the leaves are more than a half-inch thick, cut them out and discard. Coarsely chop the chard to yield 4 loosely packed cups. Save any extra for another use.

In a large pot set over medium heat, saute the bacon pieces until they are golden brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings in the pan and return to medium heat. When hot, add the onions and saute, stirring, until golden brown, about 3 minutes.

Add the 8 cups stock and bring to a simmer. Then add squash and farfalle. Cook until both the squash and pasta are tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. Watch carefully. Then add the chard and cook until it wilts, only 1 to 2 minutes more.

Taste soup and season with salt and cayenne pepper.

Ladle soup into 6 shallow soup bowls. Pass bacon pieces and grated cheese in separate bowls as garnishes. Serve immediately.

Note: Although I love to use acorn squash in this recipe, butternut squash can be substituted. Just make certain that it is cut into 3/4 -inch (no larger) cubes. Butternut squash can often be purchased already peeled, thus saving some time.

Per serving: 214 calories, 14 grams protein, 5 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 30 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber, 13 milligrams cholesterol, 1,113 milligrams sodium

Recipe analysis provided by registered dietitian Jodie Shield.

Menu for a quick fall supper

Warm baguette

Mixed greens tossed in red-wine vinaigrette

Fall brodo with acorn squash, chard and bacon

Chocolate-chip bar cookies with scoops of butter-pecan ice cream

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