I put that in quotes so that Panera knows I didn’t say it. If they need to sue, they can sue Brian.
Oh, wait, we’re married.
It’s been frigid lately, perfect weather for soup. That is, it’s been frigid up until today, when it was pleasant and not nearly as soup-worthy as the weekend was. So the weather can, you know, bite me. I’d appreciate a little cooperation next time, weather. Sheesh.
I decided to go ahead with broccoli-cheddar soup anyway, because (1) I love soup and (2) last week would have been my dad’s 76th birthday, were he around, and soup is the second most fitting tribute I can think of. (The first is pudding. Tied with Cheez-Its. So fine, it’s the second runner-up tribute. Every year can’t be first.)
I was reminded of my dad, and by association this soup, over the weekend, when I had dinner with some old family friends who used to live across the street from the house I grew up in. I was close friends with the kids, my parents with the grown-ups, N. and J. We’d spend Christmases with them, I’d hang out at their house and raid the pantry for croutons, when we were grown and out of the house they went on vacation together. N. and J.: Good People. They were especially wonderful to my dad after my mom passed away and he was rattling around his now-empty house; wife gone, daughters and son grown and many states away. He’d knock on their door, and they were always ready with smiles and Screwdrivers.
Now that I think of it, a Screwdriver would also be a deeply fitting tribute to my dad. Once, in Las Vegas, he consumed a 64-ounce screwdriver out of a plastic replica of the Eiffel Tower, something no one should really ever do, although that’s really neither here nor there. I’m only sad I wasn’t there to see it.
Anyway, he would also often bring the neighbors gifts of soup along with the gift of his drunken presence. This is because he was not a cook – longtime readers may recall that he once grilled a lamb chop until it was entirely burned away – and couldn’t scale the recipe down. So he would make enormous vats of soup, eat some, freeze some for when his starving daughter visited from grad school to do her laundry for free, and use the rest to barter with N. and J. for company and vodka.
I must say, I have no idea if N. and J. even liked the soup. For all I know, they poured the soup right down the drain and waited a suitable time before returning the tupperware, or they spread it on their garden as liquid mulch. If that was the case, then double thanks are in order for being such good friends and for humoring him on the soup front.
It’s funny, because the recipe came from my brother-in-law, a Greenbriar-trained chef, and I’m pretty sure he pulled the recipe out of his ass because I’ve never seen the man measure a damn thing in his life. So here’s my dear old dad, hewing to this recipe and churning out quarts and quarts of soup based on the whims of my brother-in-law on the day I happened to mention that man, that broccoli soup was really fricking good and would he mind telling me how he made it. I don’t know that my brother-in-law ever knew that my dad made the soup in such quantity, although had he wanted to provide a scaled-down recipe, it would have been for naught: once the initial serves-12 recipe was ingrained, game over.
So the soup is a pretty simple broccoli cheddar affair that happens to taste a little something like what Panera’s broccoli cheddar soup would taste like if your grandma or a Greenbriar-trained chef who REALLY loved butter was working at Panera. Which, apologies to you if you have a grandparent working at Panera, but that soup that I was so addicted to in college? Not so great in retrospect. What are the little orange dealies, carrot shreds or unmelted cheese? In either case, why are they in my soup? Something ain’t right, is alls I’m saying. Although Panera does have the bread bowl going for it; I’m not ready to get that hardcore with my soup yet.
I chopped my broccoli stems and threw them in a pot of stock. While they simmered and tenderized, I diced some celery and onion and sauteed them in half a stick of butter, eventually adding some flour to make a roux. The florets went in toward the end of the cooking time, and then the broccoli pot was pulverized with the help of an immersion blender. I gotta tell you, when that sucker is on high, like if you forgot to actually check the setting before you turned it on? Broccoli puree on the fucking CEILING. Cuisinart, your small kitchen appliances are no joke.
I whisked the be-rouxed onion and celery into the puree, brought the whole mess to a simmer to ACTIVATE ROUX POTENTIAL and then ran the whole mess through a blender because I like to get rid of the onion and celery chunks. Back in the pot, I added some salt and a few glugs of sherry. Oh, and a GIANT FUCKING PILE OF CHEESE. Seriously, the cheese pile was no joke. It was a race against the clock to get a picture taken before the weight of the cheese pile dragged it totally down into the soup.
With the cheese incorporated I fixed up the seasoning a little more, let it simmer to thicken and come together for a few minutes, then grabbed my loaf of crusty bread – I may not bake my own, but I always eat my broccoli soup with crusty bread – and sat down to sop and slurp.
It was every bit as good as I remembered – it’s been a few years since I made it, so it was MY turn to pull a recipe out of my ass.
This soup’s for you, dad. And so’s the Screwdriver I’m now drinking. If I had some pudding or a box of Cheez-Its, I’d hit the trifecta. Also, I’d be nauseous. But with nostalgia. You know, the good kind of nausea.
(On a tight ass note: The ingredients for this soup ran more like $20 than $5, but when you’re cooking for 2 people you get leftovers for a week, so the per-serving cost is pretty damn low.)
Broccoli-Cheddar Soup for a Crowd
Serves about 12
64 oz. stock of your choice, chicken or veg
2 bunches of broccoli (8 stems), chopped roughly
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 medium onion, roughly diced
2 ribs celery, roughly diced
1/4 c. AP flour
2-3 tbsp. sherry, to taste
8 oz. sharp cheddar, grated
salt to taste
Heat the stock in a large pot. Add only the stems of the broccoli and simmer ’til tender.
While the broccoli stems are simmering, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat and add the onion and celery. Cook until the veg is soft, but don’t let them take on color, 7-10 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over and incorporate it with the butter well. Cook the veg-roux mixture for a few minutes to get rid of any raw floury taste. Set aside.
When the broccoli stems are tender add the florets and simmer until they are cooked through and turn bright green. Run the broccoli through a blender or FoPro or attack it with an immersion blender, anything to get a puree. Return the puree to the pot, put it over medium heat, bring to a simmer and whisk in the onion/celery/roux mixture. Let the mix come to a boil so the full thickening power of the roux is activated.
You could skip the second round of blending, but I like a perfectly smooth soup without discernible oniony bits, so I puree in batches in the blender.
Add the sherry to your now-thickened, simmering broccoli puree and whisk in the cheese. Check the seasoning, you’ll likely need salt unless your stock is super-salty. Adjust it to your liking, then sit down to eat, prefreably with some sourdough. If you’re not feeding a crowd, the soup freezes very well. Share it with your neighbors, maybe they’ll invite you in for a drink.