Provençal Vegetable Soup

While in line at the grocery store, I fell for a basic marketing tactic and started looking at magazines at the checkout. Most had no appeal. At least not until I came across the Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best French Recipes. After thumbing through it quickly, I added it to my cart and took it home.

Last night, the rainy weather set the mood for soup. I remembered seeing a recipe for Provençal Vegetable Soup (aka Soupe au Pistou) in the magazine and decided to give it a try.

Soupe au Pistou

The vegetable soup itself is quite delicious. However, the shining star of the soup is the pistou. Pistou is basically the French cousin of the Italian basil pesto. It is bright sauce made with basil, Parmesan, garlic, and olive oil. I have three different types of basil growing in the backyard, so I used a combination of each. Unlike pesto, it does not have pine nuts.

Adding a dollop of pistou to the soup really infused it with a bright flavor of basil. The soup also went well with a few slices of grilled sourdough bread.

As spring gives way to summer, seek out a copy of Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best French Recipes and use the fresh herbs and vegetables in this delicious soup.

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Tomato Soup with Roasted Fennel and Chickpeas

Tomato soup with roasted fennel and chickpeas

I love community supported agriculture (CSA). For a couple of dollars each week, I get fresh, local produce that is in season, and I support my local economy. It also forces me to diversify my cooking and to be creative. For example, this past week we received savoy cabbage, kale, a fennel bulb, spinach, lettuce, carrots, and one lonely beet. The savoy cabbage and carrots were destined for Asian Rotisserie Chicken Salad (a recipe from http://www.CookSmarts.com). The spinach and lettuce are destined for green smoothies. There are numerous options for the kale. But what to do with fennel and a beet?

Fennel and a beet
What do you do with a fennel bulb and one beet?

I searched through my pantry for inspiration and came up with this idea for a soup made with the fennel, the beet, the kale, and a couple of pantry staples.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium beet
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 can (15.5 oz) chickpeas, drained
  •  3 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 (32oz) carton low sodium chicken stock (vegetable stock would work also)
  • 1/2 lime, zested and juiced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon Red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 bunch of kale, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat an oven to 425 degrees. Trim any stalk from the beet. Coat the beet with olive oil and season with salt and pepper (about 1/8 teaspoon of each). Wrap the beet in aluminum foil and put it in the oven. The beet should roast for 45 minutes to an hour, which is plenty of time to make the rest of the soup.

Toss the chopped fennel and the diced onion with two teaspoons of olive oil. Spread the fennel and onions evenly on a jellyroll pan or cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and roast for 12 minutes. Stir the fennel and onion mixture and roast for another 5 minutes. Stir the vegetable mixture again and add the chickpeas. Roast the fennel, onions, and chickpeas for 10 minutes.Roasting the fennel like this really helps mellow its flavor. Remove the pan with the fennel, onions, and chickpeas from the oven, but let the beet continue to roast.

While the beet roasts, heat a tablespoon of butter and 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil together in a 6-quart dutch oven over medium heat. Once the butter melts, add in the garlic and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. The garlic should be a golden brown, but not burnt. Add in the dried chili flakes (you can add more if you prefer a spicier soup). Cook for an additional minute, then stir in the crushed tomatoes. Add in the balsamic vinegar. Let the tomato mixture cook for 3 minutes, then gradually stir in the chicken stock. Add in the lime zest and lime juice, the dried oregano, and the dried basil. The lime zest and juice adds a brightness to the soup that enhances the flavors of the other ingredients.

Add the roasted vegetables and chickpeas to the soup. Turn the soup down to low heat and let it simmer while the beet roasts. Once the beet has finished roasting, remove it from the oven and let it cool 10 minutes. Once cool, peel the outer skin from the beet, chop the beet, and add the chopped beet to the soup.

As a quick snack, I stole a slice of beet and put it on a Melba toast with a hunk of Mizithra cheese. Not a bad little snack to enjoy while the soup cooks.

Beet and Mizithra
A quick bite of beet and Mizithra on toast

Return the soup to medium heat and add the chopped kale. Season with salt and pepper to taste (I added about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper).

Tomato soup with roasted fennel and chickpeas
Tomato soup with roasted fennel and chickpeas

Once the kale has wilted into the soup, it is ready to serve.

A bowl of soup full of CSA vegetables
A bowl of soup full of CSA vegetables

Pumpkin Ravioli Soup

Pumpkin Ravioli Soup

October is our annual “go buy all things pumpkin from Trader Joe’s” month. Each year we pick up a variety of pumpkin goods ranging from pumpkin bagels to canned pumpkin to pumpkin ice cream. Our new favorite are the Pumpkin Joe Joe’s, pumpkin sandwich cookies with a pumpkin cream filling.

Inspired by the variety of pumpkin goods at Trader Joe’s, I came up with this recipe for Pumpkin Ravioli Soup. Made entirely of ingredients purchased from Trader Joe’s, the pumpkin gives the soup a creamy texture. Using the prepared ingredients also makes this a quick dinner to cook.

Prepared Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli makes this soup a quick dinner to cook
Prepared Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli makes this soup a quick dinner to cook

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 oz Trader Joe’s mirepoix (pre-diced celery, carrots, onions)
  • 2 Trader Joe’s sun dried tomato and basil chicken sausages
  • 14.5 oz can Trader Joe’s diced and fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon Trader Joe’s South African Smoke seasoning blend
  • 8 oz Trader Joe’s organic pumpkin
  • 15 oz can Trader Joe’s cannellini beans
  • 32 oz Trader Joe’s organic free range chicken stock
  • 8 oz Trader Joe’s kale
  • 1 package Trader Joe’s Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli
  • Trader Joe’s pumpkin cornbread croutons
  • Salt

In a 5 quart pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, but not smoking, add in the mirepoix and stir until the onions become translucent, about 3 minutes. Remove the sausages from their casing. Discard the casing and add the sausage to the mirepoix, breaking it up into small chunks as it cooks. Cook the mirepoix and sausage until the sausage is no longer pink, about 2 minutes. Add in the can of fire roasted tomatoes and the South African Smoke seasoning and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes. Add in the canned pumpkin and stir until the pumpkin dissolves into the mixture, then add in the beans. Carefully stir the mixture while pouring in the chicken stock. Bring the soup to a boil,  then reduce the heat to low. Let the soup simmer for 15 minutes. Add the kale and stir until wilted. Add in the pumpkin ravioli and cook for 3 minutes. Salt to taste and serve the soup topped with a handful of pumpkin cornbread croutons.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons

The soup has a slight kick to it from the fire roasted tomatoes and South African Smoke seasoning, so substitute regular diced tomatoes and curry power or paprika if you prefer a milder soup.

Pumpkin Ravioli Soup
Pumpkin Ravioli Soup

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Back in college, several years before we got married, there were a couple of brief periods where Jill and I stopped dating and took “breaks.” During one of these breaks, I started spending more time with one of Jill’s roommates, who swore to me that her mother made the best chicken tortilla soup in the world. Though I am not an overly competitive person,  I do like a good culinary challenge here and there. So, I decided to create the best  chicken tortilla soup recipe. Ever.

I researched recipes, experimented with flavor combinations, and tasted every bowl of chicken tortilla soup I could find. I ordered chicken tortilla soup from McAlister’s Deli, Panera, Atlanta Bread Company, and anywhere else I could find it. I bought every brand of canned chicken tortilla soup I could find.

Ultimately, I came up with this recipe. I will occasionally make slight variations, such as using fresh corn versus frozen corn or using lemon juice instead of lime juice, but I always follow this general recipe.

Ingredients for Chicken Tortilla Soup
Ingredients for Chicken Tortilla Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped celery and carrots
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 cans Ro-tel tomatoes
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 can ranch style beans
  • 1-2 cans tomato sauce (depending upon desired thickness)
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 7 cups chicken stock
  • 1 can hominy
  • 1 small bag frozen corn
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1 lime, juiced

Serve with:

  • sour cream
  • tortilla chips
  • shredded cheddar cheese
  • fresh cilantro, chopped
  • avocado, diced

Directions:

In a large stock pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add chicken and cook until fork tender and fully cooked, about 15 minutes. Remove chicken and shred chicken using two forks. You could also roughly chop the chicken using a knife, if you preferred.

Shredded Chicken
Shredded Chicken

While the chicken is cooking, in another large stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, celery, red bell pepper, and carrots and saute until tender. Add chili powder and cumin. Stir the spices and vegetables until fragrant. Add the Ro-tel tomatoes, cream of chicken soup, ranch style beans, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. Stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Onions, Celery, Garlic, Carrots, and Red Bell Pepper
Onions, Celery, Garlic, Carrots, and Red Bell Pepper

Add the chicken stock, hominy, cooked chicken, and frozen corn. Add salt, pepper, and tabasco sauce, to taste.

Fresh corn
When in season, I use fresh corn instead of frozen

Stir in the lime juice and mix well. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Once the soup reaches a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer at least one hour.

Sliced lemon
A lemon can substitute for the lime

To serve, crush tortilla chips in the bottom of a bowl, pour the soup over the chips, and serve topped with shredded cheese, sour cream, and cilantro. You could also top with avocado, if it is in season.

The sour cream is very important.  During our break, I made chicken tortilla soup with Jill’s roommate and sent some back for Jill too (I must have known we would get back together). Jill’s roommate gave the soup to her, but didn’t tell her to add the sour cream. Maybe it was an accident or maybe it was intentional (we’ll never know), but the spiciness was definitely overwhelming.

Cilantro
I love the taste of fresh cilantro in my soup

Jill’s roommate would never admit that my soup was better, but I could tell she thought so. After she learned to add sour cream and cheese to the soup, this recipe quickly became one of Jill’s favorites also. The hominy is actually our favorite part of the soup. Over time this has become my signature dish, requested often by friends and family.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
A hearty bowl of Chicken Tortilla Soup

Fall Vegetable Soup

Fall is my favorite food season. I enjoy the hearty, earthy flavors of fall vegetables and wait patiently through the year for the weather to cool down just enough to spur me to make big satisfying pots of chili or stew. Inspired by the produce that has begun to show up in the grocery stores recently, I decided to make a pot of vegetable soup.

For my fall-inspired variation on vegetable soup, I  used:

  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 1 small Sweet Dumpling squash
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 1 small onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 4 oz of Baby Portobello mushrooms
  • 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 14 oz can Cannellini beans
  • 32 oz chicken broth
  • 2 Russet potatoes
  • 1/2 bunch Lacinato kale
  • 1/2 bunch Swiss chard
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Salt and pepper
Ingredients for vegetable soup
Ingredients for vegetable soup

For the soup, start with the traditional carrots, celery, and onion. Peel and dice the carrots, cut the celery stalks in half lengthwise and dice the halves, mince the garlic, and finely chop the onion. To this traditional mix, also chop about four ounces of baby portobello mushrooms and prepare a Sweet Dumpling squash.

To prepare the Sweet Dumpling squash, cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds with a spoon, and carefully peel the the skin of the squash off with a sharp knife. Dice the squash flesh into pieces about the same size as the pieces of diced carrots.

Sweet Dumpling Squash
Diced Sweet Dumpling squash

In a 6-quart cast-iron dutch oven, cook four slices of bacon (halved) on medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon and set aside for later. For a healthier option, leave out the bacon and add olive oil to the pot instead.

Bacon
Bacon? Yes please.

After removing the cooked bacon, add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and squash to the pot with the bacon grease, cooking about 15 minutes until the vegetables soften.

Vegetables for the soup
Vegetables for the soup

Once the vegetables soften, add dried sage and thyme (about a half teaspoon each) and the can of diced tomatoes with their juices. Add in the chopped mushroom and the can of cannellini beans. Mix well and pour in the chicken broth.

Bring the soup to boil and reduce the heat to medium low. Dice the Russet potatoes and add them to the simmering soup.

Diced Russet Potatoes
Diced Russet potatoes

After about 10 minutes, check to see if the potatoes are soft. While the soup simmers, wash and cut the kale and Swiss chard into 1 inch squares., removing the stem. When the potatoes are soft, add kale and chard to the soup.

Kale and chard added to the soup
Add the kale and chard to the soup

As the kale and chard begins to wilt, stir the soup well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Fall vegetable soup simmering on the stove
Fall vegetable soup simmering on the stove

This hearty, fall inspired soup is full of vegetables and flavor. The Sweet Dumpling squash, mushrooms, kale, and chard provide a tasty twist on more traditional vegetable soups. Bowls of this warm soup offer earthy, satisfying flavors of the season, perfect for the Fall’s cooler weather.

Bowls of fall vegetable soup
Bowls of fall vegetable soup

Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Soup

Jill’s favorite food is eggplant. At least it was last time I checked. Combining her love for eggplant with her childhood stories of watching David the Gnome while eating tomato soup, I ventured to make this recipe. I also had the good fortune of being given some fresh eggplant my parents grew.

This recipe begins with ingredients shown below:

Eggplant, Tomatoes, Onion, Garlic, and Chicken Stock
Eggplant, Tomatoes, Onion, Garlic, and Chicken Stock

The two japanese style eggplants from my parents garden were supplemented with an Italian style eggplant from Publix. Olive oil, salt, pepper, cilantro (from my garden) and goat cheese are not shown in the photo.

After slicing the veggies in half, they were all seared in a little olive oil before going into the oven to roast.

Searing the eggplants

After about 25 minutes in a 350 degree (F) oven, the roasted veggies should be caramelized nicely. After making this recipe the first time, I could definitely roast more garlic. Much more garlic.

Roasted Veggies
Roasted Veggies

Before pureeing the vegetables in a food processor, the eggplant pulp should be pulled away from the skin. If your vegetables have roasted enough, this should be easy to do. Blend the roasted vegetables in a food processor with some of the chicken broth until smooth. Pour the puree into a pot over medium heat. At this point, it probably will not look overly appetizing and will resemble baby food like the photo below.

Roasted Vegetable Puree
Roasted Vegetable Puree

As the puree heats up, gradually add more of the chicken stock and stir to incorporate. I ended up using a total of four cups of chicken stock, including the stock used while blending the vegetables. After incorporating the stock, the soup looked like this:

While the soup simmered, I decided to add goat cheese. I lightly browned the goat cheese in a small amount of olive oil, but would probably add unheated goat cheese next time.

Warmed goat cheese
Warmed Goat cheese

To finish things off, I added cilantro from my garden to the soup as a garnish and served.

Soup in bowls
Soup and Goat Cheese Garnished with Cilantro

This recipe was adapted from “Charred Eggplant-Tomato Soup with Cilantro” from Cat Cora’s cookbook Cooking from the Hip.