I even loved Campbell's soups when I was young. Chicken gumbo, chicken rice, and chicken noodle in particular. And always clam chowder, particularly Manhattan style (the red stuff).
But I didn't tackle soups until I was a fairly seasoned cook. They seemed to be a mystery, and something best left to an expert. I probably started off with some kind of chicken something, and maybe moved into minestrone after that. Undoubtedly, all of them were over-seasoned and had way too much "stuff" in them, but at least I was trying.
Once you get the knack, soups are generally easy, and always a crowd pleaser (for those of you who like to please crowds with your culinary wizardry). The California Culinary Academy classes certainly helped with the basics, but a lot of soup making is just experimenting. What do you like to eat? Make it! What's a worst case ... it won't be perfect the first time? Make it again, or ideally, find a recipe that you can work "from" and personalize it to your taste.
Minestrone and pasta e fagioli (beans and pasta vegetable soup) are a couple favorites, and good places to start. White clam chowder is classic, but the ingredients are ridiculously fattening. Red clam chowder seems to be a little less common, and it's great. Chicken anything, French Onion (Julia Child's recipe is the classic), coconut milk based Thai basil, and on and on.
There are undoubtedly more soup cookbooks than there are soups. New Basics and any of Julia's books of course, will probably suffice for most anything you want to tackle. If you can afford it, The Silver Spoon, which is the bible of Italian cooking. Pick up a copy in a bookstore and look through it - I dare you to try and NOT buy it.
Last night's soup:
Chicken broth: homemade stock is best, A 48 oz can of Swanson's fat free, a tablespoon of chicken broth concentrate, and 2 cups of water works fine.
- 3 ribs of celery, sliced at an angle
- 3 carrots, peeled and sliced at an angle
- 1 large sweet onion, chopped
- 1 medium leek, sliced thin
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- Large can of diced tomatoes (#2 can, as opposed to the smaller "303" can)
- 2 303 size cans of drained light kidney beans
- 2 303 size cans of cannelini beans with the juice
- 1 bay leaf
- 2-3 sprigs of chopped fresh thyme
- 2 tablespoons of chopped Italian parsley
- salt and pepper to taste
- parmesan crisps (see below)
- Sweat the onions in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Medium heat, cover the pot, 10 minutes
- Add the leek, celery, carrots, stir and simmer for another 10 minutes
- Add the tomatoes, increase to high heat
- Add the garlic, thyme, bay leaf, parsley, broth
- Bring to a boil (BTAB in culinary-ese) and reduce to a simmer (RTAS ... catching on, here?)
- Add the beans
- Simmer over medium heat for another 30 minutes, make the parmesan crisps ...
These are easy and will impress your guests. Use good cheese ... this one's easy ... read the label, make sure it says Reggiano Parmesan, and you're good to go.
Preheat the oven to 300. Line a small baking tray with parchment paper (or tin foil if that's what you have handy).
Grate about a 1/2 cup of cheese
Divide into 6 equal piles, spread them into thin 3" rounds
Bake for 6-8 minutes, watching that they don't burn
Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 10 minutes
Serve the soup with a parmesan crisp garnish, and a sprig of parsley adds to the festivity.