Years ago, when I was pregnant with my kids, all the advice books swore that smart moms-to-be made sure to eat broccoli three times a day.
It seemed a bit extreme to me, but I went with it. It wasn’t that hard. I’ve always loved broccoli, even if it does have an unfortunate aroma. It’s an excellent source of protein, calcium, iron, dietary fiber and many vitamins and minerals. And eating it three times a day when I was pregnant did not kill my affection for it after I gave birth.
It helps that it’s easy to cook, too. Broccoli does well steamed, roasted, grilled or sauteed. You can also boil it, of course, as long as you don’t overdo it, which not only chases away all the nutrients and turns the vegetable to mush, but also amps up that funky smell. Bottom line — broccoli is hearty and full-bodied. It can be the main actor in any meal.
Which is why broccoli is the star of this substantial stick-to-your-ribs soup for fall. To be sure, there’s some Canadian bacon in it, adding flavor, but it plays only a supporting role. Pork in all its forms, especially regular old bacon, is the darling of many chefs these days. But I don’t add it willy-nilly to every recipe, not least because of its fattiness.
Canadian bacon, by contrast, delivers that same smoky taste — reminiscent of the hearth and fall leaves burning — without a ton of calories. Canadian bacon actually is smoked pork loin, one of the leanest parts of the pig, and has no relation to regular bacon, which comes from the fatty belly.
And just as this soup boasts smokiness without a lot of bacon fat, it is thick and creamy without any butter, cream or flour. The trick? Pureeing the vegetables.
Any soup with enough vegetables will be creamy when you puree it. And just about any vegetable will work, though I’ll admit I smuggled in a single Yukon gold potato to assist the broccoli in this recipe. And by the way, a soup without a lot of cream or butter will not only be leaner, it also will taste that much more vividly of the vegetables with which it is made. Cream and butter, much as I love them, tend to tamp down flavor.
The best tool to puree these vegetables is a blender. But if all you have on hand is a food processor or an immersion blender, don’t worry. The finished soup won’t be quite as silky smooth, but it’ll still be delicious. And to save time and money, I’ve used every part of the broccoli. I roasted 3 cups of the florets and added them at the end to add crunch and color to the soup.
I hope you will consider this mostly vegetable soup a suitable candidate for the main course at dinner. With some grilled or toasted country bread and a green salad on the side, I promise you will be plenty satisfied.
SMOKY CREAM OF BROCCOLI SOUP WITH SHARP CHEDDAR
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3/4 pound Canadian bacon (or smoked ham), chopped
1 medium yellow onion, sliced (about 1 cup)
2 pounds fresh broccoli (4 cups small florets set aside, the rest, including the stalks, trimmed of tough skin and coarsely chopped)
1 small Yukon gold potato (about 6 ounces), scrubbed and thinly sliced
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
Heat the oven to 450 degrees. In a large saucepan over medium, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the bacon and cook, stirring, for 6 to 8 minutes, or until slightly golden. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a bowl and set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add another tablespoon of the oil and the onion to the pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened. Add the coarsely chopped broccoli (not the florets), potato and chicken broth. Bring the broth to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes, stirring every so often, or until the broccoli and potatoes are very tender. Meanwhile, on a rimmed baking sheet toss the florets with the remaining 2 teaspoons oil. Season with salt and pepper, then spread in an even layer. Roast in the top third of the oven for 5 minutes, or until lightly caramelized.
When the vegetables in the soup are tender, transfer the soup to a blender and puree, in batches, until smooth. Be careful and only fill the blender a third full each time.
Return the soup to the saucepan, along with the roasted broccoli florets and the Canadian bacon. Add the lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper. Add water, if necessary, to achieve the desired texture. Ladle the soup into 4 shallow soup bowls and top each portion with some of the cheddar.
Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”