COOKING WITH CHRISTIE: Late September Soups

By Christie Popp

 

Choosing which month I love most is difficult, but if I were hard pressed to say, September would be it, and not just because it’s my birthday month. Every month (aside from January and February!) has something wonderful to offer, either in terms of weather or food. September, though, has it all. The hottest part of the summer has mostly passed. The days are still warm, with bright, blue, cloudless skies, and the nights have cooled. Sometimes, there is even a chill in the air. The leaves start to change, and I am overcome with the strange urge to pick apples. 

 

As the weather changes, so does the produce at the market. Summer is still here, and we still find tomatoes, eggplants, zucchinis, and corn. But fall is around the corner, and now we also see apples and winter squashes. The “spring” greens that wilt in the heat of the summer make their appearance once again in delicious, fresh salads, and we have the cool weather loving broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.

 

At this time of year, I am happy to make warming soups. Rather than the thick, hearty stews of winter, these late summer soups are lighter and bright with fresh vegetables. I hope you enjoy these recipes and savor some of the last delicious vegetables of summer. 


 

Corn Chowder

 img from bon appetite

img from bon appetite

(Adapted from Molly Katzen) 

This first recipe my husband and I discovered when were living in Vermont, where I attended law school. When the weather cools, I crave this soup, some warm, crusty bread, and a nutty brown beer. This is fall to me.

My husband took over cooking for a couple of semesters during law school, and he mastered the art of soups. This is one of his favorite recipes to make. The adaptations below are his. 


The Ingredients:

  • 1 medium potato, peeled and diced small (about 2 cups diced)
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • 1 1/2 cups minced onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (or to taste—we use more, but we like salt)
  • 1 small red bell pepper, finely minced
  • 5 cups (approximately 5 medium – large cobs’ worth) fresh sweet corn
  • pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh basil (or more, to taste)
  • 1/2 cup milk, at room temperature 

The Process:

  1. Cutting the corn from the cob can take a while. My husband recommends doing it while the potatoes cook.
  2. Place the potatoes and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, cover, and cook until the potatoes are tender. Set aside.
  3. Melt the butter in a soup pot. Add the onion, thyme, and salt, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring. When the vegetables soften (about five minutes) add the cooked potatoes with all their liquid, the red bell pepper, the corn, and a little pepper. Stir well, cover, and reduce heat. Cook for about 5 minutes.
  4. Using a handheld immersion blender or a regular blender, purée about half the solids in some of the soup's own liquid. Return this to the pot, and let it rest until you are ready to serve.
  5. Stir in the milk about 10 minutes before serving. Slowly reheat only until warm. Serve immediately, topped with basil.

Soupe Au Pistou

Soupe au pistou is a Southern French vegetable soup, topped with a delicious herby paste called pistou. The pistou provides extra flavor and dimension to the soup. Pistou is France’s pesto, but without the nuts. This soup is extremely adaptable to the seasons, and can even be served pistou-less. I offer variations below. One note: I often save the rind of my parmigiano-reggiano in the freezer, and then add them in chunks to soup. The parmesan flavors the broth and provides some “umami” as it breaks down. You can discard it before eating. This is totally optional to the recipe.


The Ingredients:

Soup

  • 2 Tbs Olive Oil
  • 2 Onions
  • 2 medium cloves of garlic (minced)
  • 1 sweet (red or yellow) bell pepper
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 2 medium zucchinis
  • 1 small winter squash (e.g. acorn or butternut)
  • 3 cups (cooked or canned) chickpeas
  • 3 quarts of water + 1 cup.
  • 1 Tbs Salt
  • 1 cup small pasta (e.g. ditalini, elbows, tiny shells)
  • Optional: 1 small parmesan rind

Pistou

  • 2 Cups Fresh Basil
  • 1 Clove garlic (minced or pressed)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • salt to taste

The Process

  1. Dice all of the vegetables into smallish chunks, so that they are all relatively the same size. They don’t have to be tiny, but cutting them all about the same size helps them cook together.
  2. Add the olive oil to a large soup pot and heat over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they are soft.
  3. Add in garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add in the rest of the vegetables, chickpeas, salt, 3 quarts of water, and optional parmesan rind. Cook until the vegetables are soft, 20-30 minutes (depending on your vegetables and how small you cut them). Once vegetables are tender add in 1 extra cup of water and the pasta. Cook until the pasta is al dente. (Alternatively, if you won’t eat the soup right away, cook the pasta in a small pot on the side and add in a small amount to each bowl. This will keep the pasta from getting mushy).
  4. While the soup cooks, make your pistou. Chop the basil and garlic in a food processor, or if you are hard core, use your mortar and pestle. Add the olive oil in a steady stream. Add in grated parmesan. Salt to taste.
  5. To serve, ladle soup into a bowl; top with a dollop of pistou, and perhaps a little extra cheese if you like.

The Variations:

This soup is really just a minestrone—a big, hearty vegetable stew with beans and pasta. You could add any vegetables you wanted. Don’t worry about adding the pistou if herbs are out of season. The soup is good on its own (and better the next day).

  1. Try different beans—I use chickpeas here, but cannellini or navy beans would be delicious. I would advise avoiding black beans because they will tint the water. Otherwise, almost anything will work.
  2. Try different herbs in the pistou—perhaps this is sacrilege (I’m not from Provence, so what do I know?) but I imagine you could use any greens for the pistou. I’ve made pestos from arugula, cilantro, parsley, asparagus, and even sundried tomatoes.
  3. Try Spring vegetables—you could try peas, carrots, and new potatoes, for example
  4. Try Winter Vegetables—this would be great with rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, carrots, and cauliflower. Add in some finely chopped kale or collards (or make a kale pistou!)