In the Kitchen // Soups
As weather cools, heat up your menu with soups
By Pasquale "Pat" Bruno

As we move into the winter months, have you planned your menu of soups? Soups that are basic to your menu or a soup of the day? Customers are more into soup than you might imagine, so don’t sell them short –– they are a profitable menu item, can be prepped ahead, made in big batches, keep well (and in some instances can be frozen) and actually have low labor costs. And if you wish to create an even deeper healthy buzz about your soups, put a blurb on your menu touting your organic or vegan ingredients.

Let’s look at some basics. Stock –– chicken broth or beef broth –– is the one essential ingredient that kick starts a good soup. After that it is just a matter of adding the other ingredients — vegetables, grains, pasta, meats — and presto! Zuppa and zuppa del giorno. Keep the word “hearty” in mind. Overall, consumers prefer a hearty soup as opposed to a thin consommé-style soup.

Here, in my opinion, are four soups that you should have as part of your soup repertoire. You can feature one or two every day and then put them in rotation during the week. Soups do not last forever, so throw out the old and bring in a freshly made batch as needed. Serve soup with crusty Italian bread (a must). Serve all of these soups with grated Parmesan on the side. It’s also a good idea to consider a soup and salad lunch combo –– these are considered a lighter lunch and are perfect options for diners who don’t want a heavy pizza lunch.

Mom’s Minestrone

Yield: 4 to 6 servings
(scale up in direct proportion)

3 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 cup chopped yellow onion
4 cups canned plum tomatoes, drained
1 cup celery, coarsely chopped
3 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
2 medium redskin potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
¼ pound green beans (string beans) trimmed and cut into 1/3-inch pieces
1 cup cannellini or cooked navy beans
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the garlic and onion. Cook and stir for 4 minutes. Crush the tomatoes (by hand or hand blender) and add to the pot. Add the celery, carrots and potatoes. Cook and stir for 3 minutes. Add the stock or chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes and carrots are tender. Add the zucchini, green beans and navy beans. Cook for another 6 minutes. Add the parsley, salt and pepper.

Note: if you prefer, you can add a short pasta — tubettini or ditalini — cooked al dente, just before sending it to the table.

Serve with grated Parmesan and crusty bread on the side.

PASTA E FAGIOLI

Yield: 6 to 8 servings
(scale up in direct proportion)

3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chopped yellow onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ cup finely chopped carrots
½ cup finely chopped celery
1½ quarts chicken broth or stock
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
6 ounces tubetti or ditalini pasta cooked al dente, drained, reserved
3 cups cannellini beans, drained, rinsed
Salt and pepper to taste

Warm the olive oil in a heavy 5 quart stockpot set over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, carrots and celery. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and parsley. Bring to a low boil. Reduce the heat to simmer. Add the beans. Add salt and pepper to taste.

For each serving, ladle a portion of soup into a heated cup or bowl. Add some of the reserved pasta to each serving.

Cook’s note: for a red version of this soup, simply add 2 cups of tomato puree to the pot with the chicken broth.

CREAMY ITALIAN
TOMATO SOUP

Yield: 4 servings
(scale up in direct proportion)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup chopped yellow onion
6 cups all-purpose crushed tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, melt the butter over low heat. Add the onion. Turn up the heat. Stir often and cook until the onions are softened (about 5 minutes). Add the tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes more. Lower the heat and simmer for 1 hour. Transfer to a food processor or, using a hand-held blender, process to a puree. Return the soup to the pot. Reheat. Add the cream and combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with croutons.

Note: to turn this vegetarian soup into a heartier soup, add cooked and crumbled Italian sausage following the cream.

Serve with grated Parmesan and crusty bread on the side.

ESCAROLE & POTATO
SOUP WITH BEANS

Yield: 4 to 6 servings
(scale up in direct proportion

6 ounces short pasta (tubetti or mini-penne)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
½ cup chopped yellow onion
1½ pounds redskin potatoes, peeled and cubed
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ pound sweet Italian sausage, cut into ¼-inch rounds
8 cups chicken broth or stock
2 cups canned cannellini beans, rinsed
1 head (about 1 pound) escarole, washed and chopped coarse
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large pot of boiling salted water cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain and reserve. In a large pot set over medium heat, sauté the garlic, onion and potatoes in the olive oil until the onions wilt and turn soft, about 4 minutes.

In a separate sauté pan, set over medium heat, sauté the sausage rounds until cooked through. Drain off the fat. Reserve the sausage.

Add the chicken broth to the pot with the onions and potatoes. Bring the stock to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are barely tender. Add the reserved sausage, beans and escarole. Simmer only until the escarole wilts. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add the reserved pasta. Stir to combine. Serve with grated Parmesan and crusty bread on the side.

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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