Soup's on! . . . on the front burner. The reason for this isn't just the appeal of a steaming bowl of hot broth as an antidote to winter's chill weather. Soup also is an answer to people's concerns about saving time, cutting calories and following a nutritionally correct diet. Creative chefs minimize fat and protein and still serve a tasty, satisfying dish.
As examples, I present recipes from the Big Bowl in Chicago, which has gained an identity of its own as a source of quick, delicious and healthful meals.
It's appropriate that restaurants are playing a major role in the rediscovery of soup because the word "restaurant" was coined by a mid-18th-century Parisian soup cook. At that time, away-from-home dining was confined to inns and private eating houses. Then the cook (whose name, ironically, was Boulanger, which means baker) began offering his creations to the public as restaurants, meaning "restoratives." His right to do this was affirmed by the French parliament, and thus the public restaurant was born.
These are main-course soups that truly require big bowls. The larger number of servings is for normal portions.
Steamed vegetable soup and angel-hair pasta
Serves 6 to 10.
1 pound angel-hair pasta or spaghettini
2 quarts vegetable-tomato broth (recipe follows)
3 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and tops cut in julienne strips
L 6 ounces carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch julienne strips
1 cup finely diced zucchini
1 cup finely diced yellow squash
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch julienne strips
1 cup green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
salt and black pepper to taste
chopped parsley for garnish
Parmesan cheese for garnish
1. Cook pasta in salted boiling water until just tender. Drain and divide among 6 large serving bowls. (This step may be done ahead.)
2. Heat broth to a boil. Add mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, red pepper and green beans. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Ladle broth and vegetables over pasta. Add parsley and serve. Pass Parmesan at the table.
* Vegetable-tomato broth
Makes 2 quarts.
1/2 pound tomatoes
3 ounces vegetable base
1 1/2 ounces sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh garlic
1. Heat oven to 200 degrees. Cut tomatoes in half, lightly salt both halves and place, face up, in a baking pan. Bake for 4 hours.
2. In a large pot, combine roasted tomatoes, vegetable base, sun-dried tomatoes, salt, pepper, tomato paste, crushed red pepper, basil and garlic. Add 2 quarts of water and slowly bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. (Broth may be prepared ahead. Refrigerate, covered, for up to 3 days.)
Serves 6 to 10.
4 quarts chicken broth (low-salt if canned)
4 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups finely diced onion
1 pound Italian rice, such as arborio
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup finely diced carrots
2 cups escarole, torn into small pieces
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup finely diced zucchini
1/2 cup peas
1/2 cup diced tomato
salt and black pepper
1. Make risotto: In a large pot, heat 2 quarts chicken broth to a simmer. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt butter and cook 1/2 cup onion until just soft. Add rice and stir to coat with butter. Begin adding broth, a cup at a time, stirring over medium-low heat. As broth is absorbed, add more. Mixture should never be either "drowned" or dry. Continue adding broth and stirring until rice is fairly soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Spread rice in a baking pan lined with wax paper and allow to cool.
2. Make the soup: Heat olive oil in a pot or large casserole. Add remaining 1 cup onion and carrots and cook over low heat until onions are transparent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add remaining 2 quarts broth and bring to a boil. Add escarole and green beans, reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Add zucchini, peas and tomato. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Soup may be made ahead to this point.)
3. Place 5 cups of risotto in a large saucepan. Add all the hot broth and stir gently. Adjust seasoning as desired. Serve in large bowls. Pass Parmesan at the table.
Sichuan chicken noodle soup
Serves 6 to 10.
1/2 cup minced green onions
1/2 cup minced cilantro (Chinese parsley)
2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
1/3 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons red chili-garlic sauce
2 cups Sichuan marinade
1 pound chicken breasts, skinned, boned and diced
3/4 pound soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles)
2 quarts chicken broth
1/3 cup vegetable oil
6 ounces red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch julienne strips
6 ounces white mushrooms, sliced
4 ounces snow peas, cut into 1-inch julienne strips
1/3 cup green onions, white and some of green, cut on a bias
1. Make the marinade: Combine minced green onions, cilantro, garlic, ginger, sherry, hoisin, soy, vinegar, sesame oil, sugar and red chili-garlic sauce and mix thoroughly. Cover and set aside for at least 1 hour.
2. Prepare the soup: In a bowl, combine diced chicken and 1/2 cup of the marinade. Mix well, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
3. Cook buckwheat noodles in lightly salted boiling water until tender. Rinse, cool and divide evenly among 6 large soup bowls. Add 1 tablespoon (or more, to taste) of marinade to each portion of noodles.
4. Heat chicken broth to a simmer. Meanwhile, heat vegetable oil in a wok or large saute pan. Add marinated chicken to wok and toss over medium-high heat until slightly brown. Add bell pepper, mushrooms and snow peas and toss until vegetables are just beginning to soften.
5. Add 1 1/2 cups of hot broth to each bowl. Add chicken and vegetables to each bowl. Stir briefly, then garnish with green onions and serve.