Thursday, May 05, 2005

Recipe: Cream of Broccoli Soup Etc.

It started out as “I refuse to throw out this pint of cream!” Which led to: “This broccoli is getting kinda old.” Which led to: “What’s for dinner?” Which led to this concoction . . .

I have no photos of this one. Since it sort of created itself as it went along, and since I had no idea whether it would be edible, the camera didn’t join me in the kitchen. But we just finished the leftovers for lunch, and they were every bit as good as the batch we had for dinner a couple of nights ago. So, hey, give it a try and see what you think.

Here’s what you’ll need . . .

1/3 lb. thin sliced ham
3 – 4 small broccoli heads
3 - 4 small potatoes
1 medium onion
2 – 3 cloves garlic
12 oz. light cream
2 – 4 cups chicken stock
6 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese
parsley flakes

Here’s how you do it . . .

Since it started out to be just a plain old cream of broccoli soup, and I couldn’t find any salt pork to make some ‘cracklins’ for a little crunch and flavor, I decided to use bacon instead. We don’t use bacon very often, so there’s usually a slab in the freezer, which makes slicing ¼” strips from the end of the slab pretty easy.

I used three strips. One I left ‘whole’ so that the pieces, when thawed, would be as ‘long’ as a normal slice of bacon is wide. The other two strips got turned on their side and cut into ¼” ‘confetti.’ Then into the skillet over low heat to thaw, render the fat, and slowly brown.

While that was going on, I chopped the onion (a small tennis ball size), minced the garlic cloves, and washed and trimmed the broccoli into little floret pieces. And even though my aging broccoli was picked young, with skinny stalks, I still trimmed the stalks down to their white center parts, which are tender and full of flavor, and chopped them up.

For chicken stock, I dissolved a heaping teaspoon of ‘chicken base’ in two cups of hot water. If I’d used a measuring spoon, it would have been a tablespoon, for sure, so the ‘stock’ I created was pretty rich. But that’s OK ‘cause we’ll be adding more liquid later.

And by that time, the bacon was all nicely browned. So, carefully out of the skillet and onto some paper towel to dry. Into the skillet goes the onion. Turn the heat up a little, just until you get some slight sizzle going on. Stir it around from time to time while you peel the potatoes.

When the potatoes are peeled, toss the garlic into the onions, and stir, stir, stir. As the garlic aroma pervades the kitchen, dice up the potatoes into little cubes – you should be able to fit 3 or 4 of them into a soupspoon.

When the potatoes are all cut up, carefully spatulate the onion/garlic mixture into the bottom of your soup pot, trying to leave all the bacon fat behind in the skillet. Turn up the heat under the skillet a little more and toss in the potatoes. Yup. Stir, stir, stir . . .

While the potatoes cook, add the chicken stock to the soup pot and get a little heat under it. Add a pinch (or six) of ground cayenne if you like, and grind a goodly sprinkle of Tellicherry all over the surface of the soup. Oh, and toss in your bacon bits.

While the soup warms and the potatoes cook, cut your brick of cheddar up into little cubes.

When the potatoes show just a hint of color, into the soup pot with ‘em, and into the skillet with your broccoli florets (and stalk bits). Stir, stir . . . But just for a couple of minutes – warm the broccoli (and let it get coated with all the great flavors now lurking in the last sheen of bacon fat left in the skillet), don’t cook it. Then into the soup!

Now, decision time. How much more liquid to add? Since my cheater stock was pretty strong, I decided another two cups of water would be about right – plenty of room in the pot, plenty of flavor to start, and more to come, and with some evaporation during the rest of the cooking, yup, two cups.

So pour it in, stir it through, and raise the heat to get a bare bubble going. And while that’s going on, get out that deli ham that would have gone bad in the next few days, and start frizzling it.

Frizzle? Sure. Skillet on low heat, lay out two or three slices of ham, leaving room to flip them easily. When they start to sizzle, look for a touch of color around their edges, and for them to ‘bubble-up’ in the middle. When they do, flip them over, cook a bit, and maybe even one more cycle of flips until they reach whatever state of cookedness pleases you. I like char; Cathy likes none; so I compromised – half the slices my way, half hers. As the slices get done, move them to a plate.

By now the soup should be bubbling gently, so toss in the cheese and just keep stirring slowly until it all melts. Cook for another minute or two and then add in the cream, stirring all the while. Then cut, shred, tear, or otherwise rend the ham slices into edible sized pieces and throw them into the pot. Give a goodly sprinkle of parsley flakes across the top, and now just let it cook slowly, stirring now and then, until you declare done. I waited until the level of soup in the pot had gone down about an inch, and then served it up with some crunchy rye toast. Next time, I’ll take pictures . . .

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