Even though you can buy broccoli year round, summer is really the best time to eat it because it’s locally grown, abundant, and has a special sweetness. Related to cabbage, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, broccoli sports the same nutritional profile as these cruciferous vegetables: It’s high in antioxidants, fiber, protein, and low in carbs and calories.
Aside from the health benefits of broccoli, I love its bright green color. Have you ever cooked broccoli and found that it turned a drab gray green? Overcooking will cause that. But why? The green chlorophyll molecule, has at its heart, an atom of magnesium. Prolonged cooking, boiling or steaming, causes the magnesium atom to be replaced with hydrogen. This small change turns the vegetable a drab gray green color.
Another thing, even though broccoli is green before cooking, it very quickly turns a vibrant bright green when you plunge it into boiling water. That’s because in the raw state gas trapped in tiny spaces between the plant cells dims our view of the green chlorophyll. The rush of boiling water breaks down the gas spaces and reveals chlorophyll’s bright green.
I tell you all this because when you make this gorgeous soup, you’ll want to show off broccoli’s brilliant green color by cooking the vegetable for the shortest time possible to make it tender enough purée into a velvety liquid.
Even though broccoli is the star, crispy bits of bacon and shredded mild cheese contrast beautifully with broccoli’s sweetness. Make sure you use a top-quality chicken stock. Homemade is best, but you can buy excellent organic stocks or broths.
Broccoli soup with bacon and shredded Gouda
Makes 6 to 8 servings
The basic idea behind this soup is to focus on broccoli’s sweetness. To that end, any added element should not be strongly flavored. Bacon crumbles are fine because they mainly contribute texture and just a hint of smokiness. The cheese should give the soup an added creaminess and compliment broccoli’s sweetness. Do not use a sharp cheddar or other strongly flavored cheese.
Be sure to cook the broccoli just long enough to make it bright green and tender enough to purée, about 5 minutes. And for the best flavor, use a top-quality chicken stock. Grilled corn, cut from the cob, also makes an excellent addition, about ¼ cup per serving. Serve the soup with grilled crusty bread.
2 pounds broccoli
2 cups whole milk
5 cups chicken stock
5 tablespoons butter
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1 ½ to 2 cups finely chopped white or yellow onion
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
4 to 6 slices bacon, cooked until crisp, crumbled or chopped
4 ounces shredded Gouda (not smoked) or other mild cheese
1. Cut about a dozen small florets from the broccoli to garnish the soup. Slice large florets off the main stem. Peel the stem and cut it into ½-inch-thick slices.
2. Bring a large pot of water (8 quarts) to the boil. Drop in the small florets and cook only 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the florets to a bowl of cold water. After 5 minutes, drain well. Refrigerate, covered, until serving. Return the water to the boil and add the remaining broccoli. (Isn’t the color change amazing?) Cook about 5 minutes, just until the broccoli is tender enough to be easily pierced with a knife. Drain well in a colander and run cold tap water over the broccoli for about 30 seconds. Drain well and set aside.
3. Combine the milk and stock in a medium saucepan and bring to the simmer over medium heat. Melt the butter in a 4- to 5-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat. When the butter is bubbly, stir in the onions. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium low, and cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is completely tender. Stir in the flour, raise the heat to medium, and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly to make a roux.
4. Take the pan off the heat and immediately whisk in 1 cup of the hot milk and stock. When smooth and thick, gradually whisk in the remaining liquid. Return the pan to medium heat. Bring to the simmer, whisking gently, and cook about 15 minutes, until the soup base is only slightly thickened. Add 1 teaspoons salt and ¼ teaspoon white pepper. Taste carefully, and add more salt and pepper to taste. Turn off the heat.
5. Pour about ⅓ of the hot soup base into a blender and add about ⅓ of the cooked broccoli. Purée about 1 minute until the soup is very smooth. Pour the soup into a large saucepan. Repeat the puréeing twice more with the remaining broccoli and soup base, and add each batch to the saucepan. Taste again carefully and adjust the flavor with salt and pepper if needed.
6. At this point the soup is done. If not ready to serve, cover partially (the lid should be askew) and refrigerate. Prepare the bacon and cheese garnish. Reheat the small florets in a pan with very hot water. Drain just before serving.
7. When ready to serve, reheat the soup slowly over medium low heat, stirring occasionally. Just before portioning out the soup, raise the heat to medium to make the soup piping hot. Ladle into heated bowls and garnish with the florets, bacon and cheese.