My book club regularly meets monthly at 4 p.m. on a weekend afternoon, but for June we have changed to a weeknight. It's now my turn to host, and I have been in a quandary about what to serve.
For afternoons, we have fallen into an easy pattern of appetizers and wine, or desserts and coffee. But our weeknight meeting at 6:30 p.m. is dinnertime, so I need to prepare something more substantial. The problem is that I have a huge cooking class the night before and only a few hours free for shopping and cooking the day of our meeting.
Here's my solution: It's a new recipe for chilled broccoli and mascarpone soup. I love the simplicity of preparation. I buy broccoli florets at the supermarket and simmer them for a few minutes in chicken stock along with sauteed shallots. Kosher salt and a pinch of cayenne are the only seasonings. After pureeing this mixture, I whisk in creamy mascarpone cheese. All that is left is to chill the soup and to garnish each serving with a dollop of mascarpone and a tiny broccoli floret.
To go with the soup, I will make a salad of baby arugula (purchased already cleaned, of course) tossed in an orange vinaigrette. I'll buy sliced prosciutto to arrange on a platter and pick up a crusty whole-grain loaf and some delectable caramel almond squares for dessert from the bakery.
Although this cold soup can stand on its own, it could also begin a summer meal. No matter how you serve this delicious soup, it's so effortless, you'll probably find yourself with enough time left over to read a few pages of a favorite book.
Betty Rosbottom writes for Tribune Media Services.
Menu for a Book-Club Dinner
Salad of baby arugula in orange vinaigrette
Sliced prosciutto with crusty bread
Chilled broccoli soup with mascarpone
Caramel almond squares
CHILLED BROCCOLI SOUP WITH MASCARPONE
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup sliced shallots
1 pound broccoli florets, divided (see note)
5 cups chicken stock
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, divided
pinch cayenne pepper
Heat oil until hot in a large, heavy (lidded) pot set over medium-high heat. Add shallots and saute, stirring, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes.
Reserve 2 of the broccoli florets for garnish and add the rest to the pan. Saute florets with the shallots for 1 minute. Then add the stock. Bring mixture to a simmer and lower heat. Cover pot and cook at a simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.
Remove pan from heat and cool soup 15 minutes. Then puree it in a food processor or blender or with an immersion blender, handling soup cautiously because it will still be warm. Remove 2 tablespoons mascarpone for the garnish and set it aside in a small bowl, cover and refrigerate. Whisk remaining mascarpone, a few tablespoons at a time, into soup. Cool the soup to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until well chilled, 3 hours or longer. (Soup can be prepared 1 day ahead; keep refrigerated until ready to serve.)
Cut reserved broccoli florets, lengthwise, into 6 small florets or pieces. Place them in a small saucepan or skillet and cover with water. Bring water to a boil and cook florets until bright green and just tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain florets, rinse under cold water to cool and pat dry. If using soon, leave at room temperature; otherwise, cover florets and refrigerate.
When soup is chilled, taste and season with 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper. If desired, add more salt and pepper. (Chilled soups often need extra seasonings.) Divide soup evenly among six bowls and garnish each serving with a dollop of mascarpone and a broccoli floret.
Note: My local supermarket sells packages of broccoli florets, the small, tender green bud portion of the broccoli spear. If these are not available, you can buy broccoli crowns, the top portion of the broccoli spear. They usually have most of the tough stems removed. If using the crowns, cut them into smaller florets and dice the stems.
Per serving: 314 calories, 11 grams protein, 25 grams fat, 11 grams saturated fat, 16 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 53 milligrams cholesterol, 330 milligrams sodium.
Analysis provided by registered dietitian Jodie Shield.