Henri stays warm and cozy with these delicious cold-weather soups
An ideal winter evening for me is sitting by the fire with a cup of hot soup, cuddled up with one of my favorite throws, Miss Marilyn, and a stack of Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel catalogues.
No surprise, then, that my all-time favorite children’s story is “Soupe au Caillou,” or, as you say, “Stone Soup.” Not because of any inherent moral to the story, but because it’s the only one I know of that includes a recipe: boiling water and a rock, and then, depending on which version you read—the one involving wolves, soldiers, poor villagers, children or miserly old women—salt, barley, chicken, eggs and cream. Actually, a pretty decent soup right there, sans the caillou.
Of course, soup’s one of the easiest meals in le monde to cook. Get a whole chicken, some garlic, onions, celery and herbs (rosemary, oregano, etc.) and boil for three or four hours. Then strain and defat the stock, add whatever vegetables, beans and rice or noodles that sound good, debone the chicken and throw the meat back in the broth. Très simple.
For the more ambitious, though, I do have a couple of my own favorite soup recipes, both guaranteed to take the edge off of a cold winter evening.
U.S. Senate Navy Bean Soup
According to one of my favorite cookbooks, American Classics, by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, the U.S. Senate has been serving the same version of navy bean soup in its restaurant since 1901. Legend has it that Idaho Senator Fred Dubois (1901-07) was so taken by it that he demanded that the soup—using only navy beans, ham hocks, onion, butter, and water—be included on the Senate restaurant menu “in perpetuity.” The following is Cook’s Illustrated’s variation on that recipe.
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 stems fresh parsley
1 1/2 tbs. minced parsley leaves
1 pound dried navy beans
1 smoked ham hock (about 12 oz.)
1 tbs. unsalted butter (though salted works fine)
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 lemon cut into wedges
Tie bay leaves, thyme, and parsley stems together with kitchen twine and combine with beans, ham hock and 1 1/2 tsp. salt in four quarts of water in a large stock pot. Bring to boil and simmer until beans are soft (about two hours).
While beans are simmering, heat the butter in a large skillet, add onion, carrot and celery and cook until lightly browned (about 10 minutes). Add garlic and cook another 30 seconds or so. Transfer sautéed vegetables to small bowl.
Remove the herb bundle and ham hock from pot and lightly smash the beans until creamy. Remove meat from ham hock and, with the vegetables, add to the beans. Simmer another 30 minutes.
Before serving, season with salt, pepper and parsley leaves. Garnish with lemon wedges.
No need to worry about exact measurements here, though the following amounts of clams and clam juice will make about a gallon of chowder. Amounts of all other ingredients are left to your discretion and taste.
4-5 cans of clams
6-7 bottles of clam juice
Bell pepper, chopped
Potatoes, cut into one-inch pieces
Fry the bacon in the bottom of a large stock pot. Add the celery, onions, bell pepper and butter. Boil the potatoes in a separate pan until they begin to soften.
When the vegetables in the pan are cooked, add flour (about as much flour as there is butter) to make a roux. Be sure that the roux is good and thick—the key to a nice, thick chowder.
Stir in the clams and clam juice along with the cooked potatoes. Simmer all ingredients together on low heat for 30 minutes.
Add milk and bring to simmer. (To determine how much milk to add, simply look at how full the pot already is, decide how full you wish it were, and add enough milk to bring it up to that level.)
Season with salt, pepper and thyme.