Sunday Soup
By Betty Rosbottom
Published by Chronicle/Raincoast 2008, softcover, $21.95; 168 pages

THE PARTICULARS

Who would like this book? Anyone interested in expanding their soup-making skills beyond opening a can of Campbell’s.

Cooking skills needed: Yes, you have to know how to boil water, but beyond that, anyone with an adventurous approach to cooking will find some great recipes here. Rosbottom offers numerous tips on how to prep ingredients, what substitutions might work, how much time the soup will take to finish cooking, what can be done ahead, and what to serve alongside.

Equipment: Large stock or soup pot with lid, fine-mesh strainer or sieve, food processor, blender, food mill or immersion blender for pureeing, and a ladle for serving.

IT’S A SOUPER LIFE

I like soup about as much as my cozy lamb’s wool-lined slippers and the bright red flannel pjs my sweetie gave me one long ago Christmas. I hate sleeping in pjs, but I love schlepping around in them when it’s cold outside and I don’t feel like dolling up for anybody. But I digress. We’re talking soup here and like so many baby boomers, I grew up with Campbell’s: Loved the chicken noodle, loved the tomato with lots of crushed saltines thrown in, but truth be told, was not so crazy about the vegetable soup. Back then, I loved squishy white bread and Velveeta blackened slightly under the broiler, too. I’m so grateful that our palates grow up with the rest of us.

Sunday Soup is for avid soup lovers, and Rosbottom provides recipes that cover all the seasons: fall brodo with acorn squash, swiss chard and bacon; chickpea and pasta soup with rosemary; white bean soup with chorizo and kale; spicy pork chili with cumin polenta; asparagus soup with tarragon cream; paella soup; thai-style lemon grass soup with shrimp; avocado soup with fresh tomato salsa; zucchini vichyssoise.

Soups aren’t hard to make, but your ingredients have to be top-notch. Home-made broths and stocks are best, of course, but Rosbottom  offers a great suggestion to pump up the flavour of store-bought: simmer for half an hour with celery, carrots, onions, parsley and bit of thyme, strain and proceed with your soup recipe.

SOUP SECRETS

I’ve had many great soups, some cooked by others, some coming out of my own kitchen: bouillabaise a la Julia Child, delicate spring pea soup, smoked tomato soup, spicy tortilla soup with bits of fresh cilantro and tiny cubes of avocado floating in it, even the wonderful bread soup of Tuscany, which is really more like a savoury pudding than a true soup. And I’ve been roasting chicken, turkey and even duck bones for delicious stocks for years, stocks that add wonderful flavour to both soups and sauces.

I’m not a fan of the “throw all the leftovers into the pot” kind of soup though. I’ve tried it and, well, it usually tastes like a bunch of leftovers thrown into the pot. That’s not to say you can’t use leftovers to make a great soup. You just have to be judicious about it. Soup should have structure, it should hum with the flavours and textures of what you’re putting in. Too many different things in, or not the right combination of things, and all the ingredients start to fight with each other. You end up with slop rather than soup.

Not that I’m a total soup purist. I own a well-worn can opener and although canned soup is generally only brought out in emergencies at our house these days, I still have fond memories of the canned tomato soup (and yes, it had to be Campbell’s; the no-name just didn’t cut it) I used to fix for my kids when they were little. Instead of water, I would use milk and add a little knob of butter and a shake of garlic powder. The kids loved it and so did I.

My latest secret soup vice is Lipton’s chicken noodle soup mix. On its own , I find it far too salty, but just a little doctoring, and it takes on a whole new personality. It’s a quicky version of the Greek soup, avgolemono. You need cooked, cold rice, fresh lemon juice (about half a lemon’s worth, more or less depending on how zingy you like it) and a raw egg. Do the soup thing according to the package directions. Add the rice (about ½ cup) during the last minute of cooking. When the soup has finished cooking, stir in the lemon juice, then place a spoonful or two of the soup in a bowl and whisk in the egg. Pour the mixture into the cooked soup and whisk quickly until the egg is cooked. This takes only a few seconds and your soup is ready. Served with gooey toasted cheese sandwiches (no Velveeta anymore, please) and it’s delicious, especially on a cold blustery day.

Do you have any quick and easy, secret soup recipes? Share them with us. We’d love to hear from you.

Here’s a recipe from Sunday Soup using fresh asparagus, which — hallelujah! — are now available. Rosbottom suggests serving this with crab and avocado sandwiches, or veggie pitas with goat cheese and fresh herbs.

Heavenly Asparagus Soup with Tarragon Cream

1 ½ lbs. medium asparagus
2 tbsps. unsalted butter
½ cup chopped shallots
4 cups chicken stock, plus a little extra if needed
½ tsp. kosher salt, plus a little extra if needed
Scant 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/3 cup long-grain white rice, uncooked
½ cup creme fraiche
1 ½ tbsps. fresh tarragon, plus several sprigs for garnish

Cut off and discard tough bases from asparagus. Cut spears into 1/2-inch thick pieces.

Heat butter in a large, heavy pot (with a lid) set over medium-high heat, until hot. Add shallots and cook, stirring until softened, for about 2 minutes. Add asparagus slices and cook, stirring, 1 minute more. Add stock, ½ tsp. salt, cayenne pepper, and rice. Bring mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat, cover pot, and cook until vegetables are completely tender, for about 20 minutes.

Puree soup in batches in a food processor, blender (note: be very careful to do only small batches in a blender or you’ll have scalded soup all over yourself and your kitchen) or food mill and return soup to the pot (or use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pot). Place creme fraiche in small bowl and stir in the chopped tarragon. Whisk 1/3 of the tarragon creme fraiche, a little at a time, into the soup. Save the remaining creme fraiche for the garnish.

Taste the soup and season with salt, if needed. If soup is too thick, thin it with a few tablespoons of the extra stock. (The soup can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat.)

To serve, ladle soup into bowls. Garnish each serving with a dollop of tarragon creme fraiche and a tarragon sprig. Serves four.

From Sunday Soup