Treat yourself to a rich and fragrant soup or chowder

Treat yourself to a rich and fragrant soup or chowder (January 25, 2012)

This everyday busy time of year, this kind of weather — there's no need to make a case for eating soup. Homemade soup, that is. Rich and fragrant, filled with all the goodies you like to use and which, ostensibly, your family likes to eat. And not replete with ingredients you'd rather not include, e.g. sodium, preservatives, etc.

The only drawback to cooking up a big pot of slurpy comfort is time. We tend to think of soup as long-cooking concoctions that we simply don't have time to wait for on a week night and we're too busy running around to stay home for on a weekend.

Our exercise du jour, then, is to suggest some healthful, interesting pots o' goodness that don't take long to fix and which can be simmering while you fix side salads or sandwiches to go with. Or – and here's a lovely thought – while you put your feet up for a few minutes to recharge for the "family time" ahead.

We begin …

Submit a Letter to the Editor for the Laurel Leader, Columbia Flier and Howard County Times

Classic clam chowder

No, you don't need to scrub and shuck your own clams for this traditional dish, just buy these favored bi-valves in cans. Whole milk is the secret to a "creamy" result. Oyster crackers or cheese crackers make a fine garnish. Add a salad or a grilled cheese sandwich. Comfort indeed.

4 slices lean bacon, chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 rib of celery, finely chopped

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 (10-ounce) cans whole baby clams, including juice, or 6 (6 1/2 -ounce) cans chopped or minced clams, including juice

1 1/2 pounds red-skin potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed, cut into half-inch pieces

4 cups of milk (plus more as needed)

1/2 cup chopped scallion greens, optional

In a large, heavy pot, over medium-low heat, cook bacon, onion and celery in butter until celery is softened, about 8 minutes. Add milk, clams with their juice and potatoes. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, until potatoes are very tender. Stir in scallion greens, if using. Taste for salt (you shouldn't need any) and pepper. Makes about 6 servings.

Bean and pasta soup

No, this isn't pasta e fagiole, that earthy Italian soup; this vegetarian main dish concoction is more Middle-Eastern than Mediterranean. It takes about 20 minutes to prep, about 45 minutes overall. We use Swiss chard leaves (like spinach, but more robust), plus a few other fresh herbs for all kinds of background flavors. And we use kidney beans for their color, but you can substitute cannellini beans or even black-eyed peas if you wish.

Should you want to de-vegetarianize this dish, substitute chicken broth for all or part of the water. Some warmed whole wheat pita and maybe some cheese make good accompaniments.

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced crosswise