Friday, December 9, 2011

Soups 101

On a cold winter day there’s nothing more soothing than a pot of soup simmering on the stove. I’ve spent the recent cooler evenings at home with a warm cup of soup beside a roaring fire. To me, this welcomed environment best symbolizes the beginning of Winter.

Making soup usually begins with sautéing aromatic vegetables such as onions, carrots, celery, with other seasonings in butter oil to create a flavorful base. Most soup recipes call to add a small amount of liquid such as stock, water or wine to the pot. This step recaptures the flavor developed from sautéing. You might also add a thickening agent such as roux, and allow it to cook for a few minutes before the remaining liquids are added.

The process for making a soup is essentially the same as the steps for making a sauce. The difference is that soups are less concentrated in flavor and can be eaten as a food in themselves whereas a sauce is used to accent a finished dish.

Most soups are simmered gently over low heat, requiring little attention other than occasionally stirring to ensure all ingredients are evenly combined.

Cooking Tips For Making A Good Soup

• Slice or chop vegetables uniformly to ensure even cooking.
• Soup should be cooked at a slow simmer to distribute flavors. Stir it often with a wooden or silicon spoon.
• Leafy herbs, such as thyme, parsley, bay leaf may be tied with a string inside a cheese cloth then removed before serving.
• Add your seasonings in small quantities. They will intensify as the soup cooks, and you can always add more seasoning later.
• Cook tougher meats in stock to ensure a more tender texture, then add other ingredients.
• Salt is the most basic ingredient, yet adding of salt must be carefully timed. Take care not to over salt. Some salt substitutes can be a squeeze of lemon or some good quality balsamic vinegar to brighten the flavor of any soup, without the sodium.
• If you are not serving your soup immediately, let it cool before storing it in the refrigerator. Cool your soup to room temperature first, then transfer to refrigerator or freezer. Most soups can freeze exceptionally well.

Garnishing Soups

Croutons add a nice crunchy texture to soups and are perfect to accompany any flavorful soup. Restaurants use day old baguettes and other breads as croutons for soups or salads. At home, take day old breads, remove crusts and cut into ¼ in cubes. Place cubes in mixing bowl, coat with olive oil Arrange cubes on a baking sheet, sprinkle sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Place in preheated 300F oven. Bake until golden brown, usually 15-20minutes. Cool crotons to room temperature and serve. Croutons may also be stored in airtight container to use later.

There are a variety of nuts to use in a soup to accentuate the flavor. I love toasted hazelnuts in butternut squash soup, for example. Pecans, almonds, or walnuts are also fantastic in soups. To garnish with nuts, sprinkle a small amount decoratively over soup just before serving.

A drizzle of good olive oil or herb flavored oil always add an elegant finish to a soup. Drizzle a small circle of oil, in the middle of the soup, and garnish the center with a pinch of fresh herb with a chiffonade cut.

Finely cut, raw vegetables are another great garnish for soups. Float them on top, cut into a small dice or cut into jullineen sticks, like straws in a bowl, for a more dramatic presentation.

If nothing else, you can always garnish only with a neatly cut fresh herb, in a contrasting color to the soup.

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