Veggies sing in creamless creation

The Associated PressOctober 10, 2012 

Years ago, when I was pregnant with my kids, all of 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 but also turns the vegetable to mush. 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.

Canadian bacon delivers that same smoky taste without a ton of calories. It 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 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, 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

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

In a large saucepan over medium, heat 1 tablespoon of oil. Add bacon and cook, stirring, for 6-8 minutes, or until golden. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Add another tablespoon of oil and onion to pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened. Add coarsely chopped broccoli (not florets), potato and chicken broth. Bring broth to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes, stirring every so often, or until broccoli and potatoes are 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.

Return soup to the saucepan, along with the roasted broccoli florets and the Canadian bacon. Add lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper. Add water, if necessary, to achieve the desired texture. Ladle the soup into 4 soup bowls and top each portion with some cheddar.

Nutrition per serving: 410 calories; 200 calories from fat (49 percent of total calories); 22 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 60 mg cholesterol; 25 g carbohydrate; 8 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 31 g protein; 1680 mg sodium.

Start to finish: 45 minutes Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine and has written three cookbooks.

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