Broccoli/Cheddar Soup

Here in LA, we don’t have two things that I dearly miss:  Dunkin Donuts, and Panera Bread.  Dunks for obvious reasons, and Panera for their broccoli cheddar soup served in a bread bowl.  What a great dish.  Panera Bread really hit a home run with that one.  Out in LA, of course we can buy broccoli cheddar soup, but it just isn’t the same.  It doesn’t have the same flavor and appeal.  It isn’t Panera Bread.

So, in my longing for Panera’s broccoli/cheddar soup, I am going to give you my recipe, which comes damn close.  A couple notes regarding broccoli soups before we get in to it:

There are a couple of schools of thought regarding broccoli soup.

  • 1.  Keep it as basic and pure as possible.  In other words, make a broccoli puree, season it and add a little cheese (like good goat cheese) right at the end for flavor and creaminess.  
  • 2.  Make a true ‘thickened’ soup with more complex flavors, pureed and highly seasoned.  

Both are excellent and equally easy to make.  Option 1 focuses on the natural flavor of broccoli, without diluting for changing the flavor much.  It’s great for a restaurant application, as a tasting course, because of its refined and focused nature.  For me, personally, I like option 2.  Broccoli/cheddar soup is like comfort food, and there is a certain flavor and texture expectation when it’s served.  I love the thickened aspect, the complexity of flavor, the addition of dairy, and the sharp cheddar at the end.  I want my broccoli/cheddar soup to be as close to Panera’s as possible.  This recipe will get you there.  The key is the add small additions of salt as you go, to develop flavors as they cook, as opposed to salting it at the very end.  Again, the soup is not difficult.  It’s a classic pairing, and easy to make, and as long as you’re willing to puree and push it through a fine strainer, the work is minimal.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Yield: 6 portions

Ingredients:

1/2 lb fresh broccoli, stems and florettes
2 crowns broccoli, blanched until tender, reserved for garnish
1/4 lb (or 1 stick) unsalted organic butter
1/4 to 1/2 cup flour
1 1/4 cup cup grated carrot (reserve the 1/4 cup)
pinch nutmeg
1/2 lb sharp yellow cheddar, grated
1/2 yellow, medium dice
2 cups half and half
2 cups prepared chicken stock
Kosher salt
cracked black pepper

Method:

In a small stock pot, begin melting the butter.  Add the onion and cook until translucent.  Add the flour and stir until all butter has been absorbed.  Start with 1/4 cup and add flour as needed.  Slowly begin adding the chicken stock, whisking continuously.  Once the chicken stock has been added, add the half and half and whisk until smooth.  Bring to a simmer (do not boil!).  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the nutmeg.  Add the broccoli and carrot and cook over low heat (barely simmering) for about 20 minutes.  Puree in a bar blender and strain through a fine mesh strainer.  Return to the pot and return to a simmer.  Whisk in the cheese.  Reseason.  Add the reserved carrot and reserved broccoli for garnish.

Serve.

Of course, my recommendation is to either serve this in a bread bowl, or with good, very crusty bread (sourdough or french boule or baguette is best).  Maybe an extra turn of the pepper grinder, and you’re done.

Enjoy.

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