It is no surprise that National Soup Month, January, falls smack dab in the middle of winter. Nothing is better than a warm bowl of wonderful soup, each bite soothing away the chill and creating a warm fuzzy sense of well-being.
Aside from seafood varieties, soup is often economical. A secret long known to cooks, soup can stretch ingredients and budgets, easily allowing for substitutions — water for stock and frozen for fresh vegetables are the most flexible. It’s a good idea to stick to a one-flavor profile like Italian, spicy or savory, and use whatever you have in the pantry.
Whereas traditional techniques usually seem to involve cooking all the vegetables with the meat while it tenderizes, trying the current trend of roasting the vegetables gives the soup more texture and flavor. Simple roasting brings out the natural sugars in the vegetables and allows them to caramelize. Also, as in the Roasted Vegetable Soup recipe, combining all the ingredients at the end maintains the integrity of each element — the richness of the enhanced beef stock and the caramelization and texture of the vegetables combine for an updated spin on an old favorite.
If you are one of the many people who resolved to pursue a healthier lifestyle in the new year, these soups incorporate an array of good vegetables, including some, like butternut squash, that might be new to you. Harmoniously paired with other ingredients that are more familiar, it is possible to introduce new treats to adults and children alike.
One tip — when using commercially prepared ingredients, such as canned vegetables or boxed stock, taste frequently to make sure the amount of salt is right. Salt is used in most store-bought ingredients to keep them shelf stable, so you will need to add less salt or none at all. Tasting the soup as you go ensures a perfectly seasoned serving of chill-chasing happiness.
ROASTED VEGETABLE BEEF SOUP
1 1/2 pounds cooked beef*
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3 ribs celery, roughly chopped
1 fennel bulb, sliced
3 to 4 carrots, roughly chopped
4 medium potatoes, washed, skin on and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (red or russet will work, but red will keep their shape and texture better)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups green beans, fresh or frozen
4 to 6 cups water
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 cartons (64 ounces) low-sodium beef broth (like Kitchen Basics)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1/2 teaspoon parsley
Kosher salt, to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Prepare the beef according to the type you are using (See note below.)
Place prepared onion, celery, fennel, carrots and potatoes (and green beans, if using fresh) on shallow baking pans and toss with olive oil and a little kosher salt. Roast the vegetables for 15 to 20 minutes at 400 degrees, shaking the pans once and turning with a spatula if necessary, until the edges are just beginning to brown. Remove from oven.
While roasting the vegetables, combine the beef broth, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce in a large stock pot, mixing well. Dissolve the gelatin and cornstarch in a little cold water; add to the soup base. Bring to a boil, and add the garlic, thyme, rosemary, parsley and frozen green beans, if using; reduce to a simmer. Simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, and check the soup seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Add cooked beef and roasted vegetables to the stock pot. Continue simmering on medium-low heat until warmed through. Serve in warm bowls with fresh cornbread.
Beef: If using chuck roast, stew meat or similar tough cuts, roast in a 350-degree oven in a covered Dutch oven with just enough oil (about 1 tablespoon) to keep the meat from sticking until it breaks down, about 2 hours for 1 1/2 pounds. Drain excess oil before adding to soup.
If using ground beef, tender sirloin or another cut of steak, cut into bite-size pieces, dust with flour, and brown in a little olive oil until medium rare. The beef will continue to cook when added to the hot broth but will maintain its tender texture instead of overcooking.
CREAMY ROASTED VEGETABLE SOUP PUREE
3 to 4 cups chicken stock, homemade or store bought
1 pound carrots, peeled
1 pound parsnips, peeled
1 large sweet potato, peeled
1 small butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled and seeded
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 to 3/4 cup half-and-half, room temperature
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the carrots, parsnips, sweet potato and butternut squash into 1 1/2-inch (bite size) cubes. All the vegetables will shrink a little in the oven, so don’t cut them too small.
Place all the cut vegetables in a single layer on shallow baking sheets. Don’t crowd them. Toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast the vegetables for about 15 to 20 minutes at 400 degrees, shaking the pans once and turning with a spatula if necessary, until the edges are just beginning to brown. Remove from oven.
Heat 3 cups of chicken stock in a large saucepan. Working in batches, coarsely puree the roasted vegetables and the chicken stock in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pour the soup back into the pot and season, to taste. Thin with more chicken stock and reheat. The soup should be thick with some remaining chunks of vegetables, but not like a complete puree, so add more chicken stock and/or water until the soup is the consistency you like. Stir the cream into the warm soup.
Sprinkle with parsley, season to taste, and serve hot.
ROASTED RED PEPPER AND BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions, chopped
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons jalapeño, seeded and chopped
2- to 3-pound butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeds removed
1 cup roasted red bell pepper
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock, homemade or store-bought
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 teaspoons coriander
2 teaspoons cumin
1 cup half-and-half, room temperature (or heavy cream, cook’s preference)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the squash pieces cut-side up on the baking sheet. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter, and brush all of it over the tops and insides of the squash halves (alternatively, you can rub it on evenly with your fingers). Season generously with salt and pepper. Roast until knife-tender, about 50 minutes to 1 hour. When done, remove from oven and set aside to cool.
The other ingredients can be prepared while the squash is roasting. In a scratch-proof pot, melt the rest of the butter over medium heat. Add onion and salt; cook until onion begins to caramelize, around 10 minutes. Add the garlic and jalapeño, stirring and cooking for 1 more minute, until garlic is fragrant.
When the squash is cool enough to handle, scoop the roasted flesh from the squash halves. Add the roasted squash, bell pepper, chicken stock, tumeric, curry powder, coriander and cumin. Stir well. Over medium-low heat, bring the soup just to a simmer and allow to simmer for 25 minutes.
Remove pot from heat, add half-and-half, and use an immersion blender to puree. Bring soup back to desired temperature slowly, and serve hot.