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February 18, 2008

Broccoli Soup and the Met

in gluten-free,nostalgia,soup,travels,vegan,vegetarian

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Maybe it’s the broccoli soup recipes floating around lately, or the fact that last weekend wore me out (in a good way, but still), and this week was no slouch, either, but all I wanted to do this weekend was sleep in, and then make broccoli soup. On Saturday, I did both of those things — and it was grand.

I used to make a very simple broccoli soup way back when I lived on Columbia Road in DC; it was, really, one of my first cooking experiments in that time when I started finding my way into the kitchen. All I ever did was to cook a potato in a little broth and then add a lot of broccoli florets to cook until they were all soft and melting together; I didn’t even puree the soup, but rather mashed it with a potato masher before adding salt, pepper, and a little sprinkle of basil. Sometimes I added cauliflower (these were the dark days before I discovered the joys of roasted cauliflower, and thought it was best to disguise that lovely vegetable under a cloak of other tastes) and sometimes different herbs, but the essential soup was simply cooked down broccoli — the good nutrients and juices preserved in the broth — with a little potato to give it heft.

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The funny thing is that broccoli was never one of my favorite vegetables. Steamed, stir-fryed, sautéed — no thank you. Maybe I liked it raw, but only as a vehicle for some of those awful-yet-irresistible onion dips — the crunch couched in smooth sour cream so that I hardly noticed what was underneath.

But then I went to New York with my parents after I graduated college, and something shifted — I can, even, pinpoint the exact moment I started to consider broccoli, and then to like it.

We were at the Met, after a long day of walking around the city, probably starting at the PATH train on 33rd St. and working our way uptown (maybe we took the subway, too, but I can’t remember). It was a hot afternoon, and the air smelled like what I can only describe as New York City in the summer — part humidity, part city streets, part sewer-y, part sidewalks baking in the sun, just very New York. This was my first real trip there, though I’d had a few stolen weekends with friends in college, and it was especially nice to be there with my parents, who’d grown up across the river in Jersey City (where, too, we were staying with my grandparents). New York, as you know, is nothing like Washington, DC, and I remember walking down through the ‘canyons’ of the financial district and thinking it would always be cool there, even on the hottest days, because the buildings are so tall.

At the museum we wandered through the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit (where, five years later, I would be chastised just for looking at my cell phone — to see what time it was! I swear!). I was besotted by the Tiffany glass (and duly photographed in front of it). I was amazed at how large the building was, the view from the rooftop cafe, and by how many people teemed about. Finally we realized we were hungry and went to the cafeteria.

I realize this is not a very glamorous story — how I came to broccoli. It’s not like I went to the French Laundry, had one of Thomas Keller’s gloriously deconstructed dishes and then leapt up, exclaiming, Broccoli! J’adore! Where have you been all of my life? Or like I went to Italy and had broccoli fried in olive oil and garlic until crisp, then swooned over its exquisiteness while reaching for my companion’s hand to share a moment of culinary bliss.

No. I went to the cafeteria at the Met with my parents, and I was starving (this was even before I started with all the running, so I guess I’ve always had a good appetite?), and for some reason I got a plate of stuffed shells with a side of broccoli. Was my body craving calcium? Did I need a green antidote to all that cheese? I’ll never know — it just sounded good. And it was — probably overcooked, a little mushy even, and I’ll bet it was lukewarm. But for some reason, in that moment, it was perfect. Time was suspended that week: the ticket to Europe hadn’t been purchased (nor had the trip been planned), the apartment in DC hadn’t been rented, the job hadn’t been found, and I was just able to simply be, eating my broccoli at the Met on a hot summer afternoon, with no fear or worry for the future.

Now I wonder: did that little taste prompt all the soup making that followed?

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When I started my ‘real life’ in DC, I made up this broccoli soup because it seemed like it would taste good and it was easy – also, healthful and nourishing. I haven’t made it probably in years, but all I could think of last week was that I wanted its smooth slip down my throat, knew I would feel refreshed and restored just for eating it.

Some might call this soup homely, but I prefer to call it simply lovely. It’s velvety and rich, even without using any cream, and on a chilly, grey weekend it can make you feel wrapped up in the coziest warm blanket. In fact, I lounged on the couch just this afternoon after my run with a cup of soup and my soft throw blanket, with a new book in hand and the classical music station on; all I wanted for was a cup of tea and a little cat to curl up with me.

And, too, whilst sipping, I thought about New York and how it’s been almost a year since I’ve been, about how I miss my friends there and the whole sense of possibility and purpose the city has, even still — and about how, though I am a Californian through and through, my familial roots are firmly planted there, and on the East Coast in general. Life is funny that way.

Try this soup, and see where it takes you.

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Broccoli soup

1 clove garlic, sliced
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2 russet potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
2 cups vegetable broth
4 large heads broccoli

Sautee the onion and garlic in a little olive oil in a large soup pot (I used my big blue). After about five minutes — or until they’re soft — add the carrot and cook a few more minutes. Add the potatoes and the stock and simmer for about 10 minutes until potatoes begin to soften. Add broccoli and about 3 cups of water; salt and pepper to taste.

Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer until both broccoli and potatoes are soft and broken up. Remove from heat, add a teaspoon of dried herbs such as basil or herbs du provence, then puree in a food processor or with a stick blender until smooth.

Reheat gently, and serve hot.

Little housekeeping note: to everyone who has signed up for the newsletter, I’ve gotten your emails (thank you!) and you can look forward to a fresh installment coming up in March.

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{ 6 comments }

susan g February 21, 2008 at 2:50 pm

On a practical note — do you mean 4 bunches? The weekend is coming…

justrun February 20, 2008 at 7:43 pm

Yum! And can I just say how much I love the simplicity?! LOVE IT.

Maryann February 20, 2008 at 1:05 pm

Nice shot of the steam! Beautiful blog as well :)

Lucy February 19, 2008 at 5:49 pm

Beautiful story.

Beautiful broccoli.

Thrilled to have found your lovely blog.

John C Abell February 19, 2008 at 3:18 pm

Yeah — this soup is in my immediate future. And FABULOUS pictures!

Bea at La Tartine Gourmande February 18, 2008 at 8:23 pm

This one looks delicious! Love the pictures!