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Soup season

Sarah L. Stewart
Theo StroomerChef Tournant Billy Zorella at the Bully Ranch makes a mirepoix for the restaurant's Tomato and Cheddar soup, which has been on the menu since 1992.
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Buds may already be popping in some places, but here in the High Country the snow is falling, and a bowl of homemade soup is still one of the best ways to combat the chill.There are few more simple, satisfying and inexpensive meals than a pot of soup. Make one on a Sunday, and youll have a ready-made lunch for a few days the following week.Soup is something that sort of comes from within you when you cook it, says Doug Schwartz, who lives near Silverthorne and opened the first MiZuppa restaurant (then simply Zuppa) in Breckenridge in 2000. Its kind of hard to screw it up.Before you test your own soup skills, check out some insights and recipes from a few local cooks who have spent plenty of time perfecting their own brews.

MirepoixPronounced mir-eh-PWAH, this is just a fancy-sounding French name for the combination of carrots, celery and onions that form the flavor basis for many soups.Brian Atkinson, chef at Bully Ranch in Vails Sonnenalp, also adds leeks to the mix.Eighty percent of the soups that I do, thats the base, he says.Most often, the mixture is sauteed, then broth and other ingredients are added.BrothThe foundation for many great soups is a great broth. The canned stuff will work, but to better control the flavor and saltiness of your soup, its a good idea to make your own.I have found it really difficult to find any good stock in a grocery store, says Schwartz, who was a chef for 20 years prior to opening Zuppa. Thats usually your biggest challenge.In my kitchen, chicken stock always starts with a roasted chicken, itself a hearty and surprisingly easy supper. Once the bird has cooled usually after its been in the refrigerator overnight pick the carcass clean of all meat (which can then be used for salads, sandwiches or other recipes), put the bones and fat in a large pot and cover them with water. Then throw in a few celery stalks with leaves and half a raw onion with skin, which adds color. Simmer gently, partially covered, for an hour or two. The more patience you have, the more flavor and color youll extract. When finished, youll have 6 to 8 cups of broth, which you can refrigerate or freeze until youre ready to use it.Atkinson starts his broth with a mirepoix (either raw or sauteed, depending on the flavor hes looking for) then adds bones and water and cooks it for five to six hours or just one hour if using only vegetables.It takes some time, he says. It is pretty important.SaltIts wise to taste the soup in the final few minutes of cooking, which is the best time to adjust your seasoning. If its bland and watery, theres a good chance you havent added enough salt. Soup needs salt to come alive, but it doesnt have to be the brine many canned soups are in order to taste good.To avoid overdoing it, add salt a quarter teaspoon at a time, then wait a few minutes for it to dissolve before tasting again. When in doubt, add less you can always add it in the bowl later on.Theres no real way to remove salt, Atkinson says. Just to be safe, I always do it at the end.IngredientsYou can craft a good soup from just about anything.Go in the cooler and find scraps of stuff, Atkinson says. I could probably make up four different soups from what you have in the refrigerator.While thats true, its also a good idea to opt for seasonal ingredients when possible.To build good soups, you need nice, fresh ingredients, Schwartz says.Juan Martinez, executive sous chef at Chaps Grill & Chophouse in the Vail Cascade, tries to create soups that match the time of year. Now, root vegetables like potatoes and celery root are good bets; come springtime, asparagus should be ready.CookbooksIf youre not accustomed to making soup, Schwartz advises you to get help.The first thing is, get a good soup cookbook and use that as kind of a guide, he says.A few favorites from his collection of 30 to 40 soup cookbooks are Splendid Soups by James Peterson; Soup: A Way of Life by Barbara Kafka; and The Daily Soup Cookbook by Leslie Kaul.The books will help with the basic techniques; after that, Schwartz says, Relax, and cook from your soul.

Though Atkinson wont reveal the precise recipe for the Tomato and Cheddar Soup that has been on Bully Ranchs menu since 1992, the concept for this soup is similar. Note: The restaurants version also includes celery, garlic, a little sugar, oregano, thyme, rosemary and some fresh-grated cheddar cheese on top.4 tablespoons butter or olive oil1 cup chopped onions2 tablespoons flour2 cups chicken broth2 cups milk1 14-ounce can of tomato sauce1 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes1 teaspoon dried basilSalt and pepper to tastePlace butter or olive oil in large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, for several minutes until soft but not brown. Sprinkle in flour and stir until bubbly, one to two minutes. Slowly add chicken broth and milk, stirring. Allow to thicken for several minutes, then add tomatoes and basil. Simmer over low-medium heat until the soup reaches the desired thickness, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper gradually, tasting between additions. Serve with warm homemade biscuits. Makes six to eight servings.

There are about as many ways to make this classic as there are countries in the world, Schwartz says. This is the version that most often appears on my table; if youve made the broth ahead of time, you can easily throw it together when you get home from work for a quick, satisfying supper.8 cups chicken broth (homemade strongly recommended)2 carrots, chopped2 celery stalks, chopped1 cup pasta (rotini or campanelle works well)1 cup cooked chicken meat, choppedSalt and pepper to tasteBring broth to a boil in a large soup pot over high heat. Add pasta and cook for the recommended time, or slightly longer at our high altitude. About halfway through pasta cooking time, add carrots. Once pasta is tender, lower heat and add celery and chicken. Simmer for several minutes, until celery is tender and chicken warmed through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Schwartz calls this a French twist on an old American favorite. He says its perfect for a cold evening, served with a garden salad and crusty loaf of bread. Serves six.8 ounces thick-cut bacon2 tablespoons butter2 onions, diced1 teaspoon herbs de Provence (optional)1 teaspoon garlic, minced4 pounds potatoes, peeled and diced (Idaho baking potatoes work fine)10 quarts chicken stock2 cups heavy creamSalt and fresh cracked pepper to taste6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, chopped6 tablespoons Roquefort or quality blue cheeseCook bacon until crisp; drain, chop and set aside. In separate pot, saute onions until transparent. Add garlic and herbs de Provence and continue to saute for one to two minutes. Do not allow onions to brown. Add potatoes and chicken stock, and bring to simmer. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until potatoes are soft. Strain soup keeping solids and liquid separate. In a blender, slowly blend potatoes, using stock as needed to get mixture to puree. Add blended mixture back to original pot and return to simmer. Heat cream and add to soup, return to simmer one more time. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle soup into warm bowls, and garnish with bacon, Roquefort and fresh parsley.

This is Chaps signature soup, Martinez says. Its been on the menu since the restaurant opened, and its too popular to take it off, he says. Chaps gets its smoked pheasants from Nueske Farms in Wisconsin, available online at http://www.nueskes.com.Simple pheasant stock:1 whole smoked pheasant 3 ribs celery, coarsely chopped2 carrots, peeled1 white onion, coarsely chopped 1 bay leaf 1 gallon water Place these ingredients in a large stock pot and simmer for three hours. Remove from heat and cool. Strain the broth, pull meat from the bird and chop finely.1/2 cup butter 2 ribs celery, finely chopped1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped1 white onion, finely chopped1 cup cooked wild rice 1 cup fresh roasted corn 1/2 cup flour1/2 cup dry sherry 3 cups heavy whipping cream Salt and pepper to taste Chopped fresh chives In a large stock pot, add butter and cook until melted. Add celery, carrots and onion and cook until all ingredients are soft. Add corn, rice and flour and cook until flour is absorbed into the rest of the ingredients. Add sherry and cook until the alcohol is evaporated, then add stock and diced pheasant. Cook until mixture boils, then slowly add heavy cream into soup. Cook until mixture thickens to a soup consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper and garnish with chopped chives.


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