03 Feb nutty broccoli soup
You might think it’s nutty to give broccoli the starring role in any soup but, believe me, this is a really satisfying supper that takes hardly any time and barely any effort. But I have a confession to make. In the past, when I would see broccoli soup on a menu I would not be pleased. It always seemed to me to be such a measly soup, a flavour vacuum, a depressing affair with a dull colour. Why make broccoli soup when you can have rosemary roasted tomato soup made with fresh tomtaoes bursting with sunshine? Or a comforting potato and leek soup, served with a swirl fresh cream? Surely these soups will always be superior.
There is another side to broccoli soup that I have experienced and that’s as a fad diet “meal”. I’ve made bowls of broccoli “soup” that were nothing more than florets of broccoli boiled in stock, eaten in misery in my early 20s when I went through an unhealthy phase with food and became obsessed with “skinny”. Though I have since repaired my relationship with porridge and cottage cheese, broccoli soup seems to be have been paired with hunger and unhappiness in my mind since then. Time to put an end to that type of thinking and give broccoli a chance!
Before Christmas, I visited La Cucina Centro in Limerick City which opened in November of last year. The owners, Lorraine Fanneran and Bruno Coppola, opened their fantastic neighbourhood Italian café on the outskirts of Limerick City in Castletroy in 2003, also called La Cucina. They’re city centre spot is bigger and more modern, but it still brings home the comfort of Italian cooking. It was a wet and wintery day on my visit and soup was all that could think of as I walked through the doors. You can imagine how my heart sank when the waitress told me the soup of the day was broccoli. But I really trust Fanneran and Coppola, having been a customer of theirs many times over the years, so I figured I should put aside my fears and go for it. And, boy, was I glad I did. This was broccoli soup done right, laced with the nutty taste of Parmesan cheese.
The broccoli loses its vibrant green colour in this soup but on the plus side, it’s a great way to use the broccoli stalk which often ends up in the bin, though it’s perfectly edible and quite delicious when cooked properly. This soup is also laced with Parmesan cheese, which is really the secret to its success. It’s a long way off from the sad florets boiled in stock, and that’s a very good thing.
Nutty Broccoli Soup
1 small potato
2 cloves of garlic
Olive oil, for frying
1 large head of broccoli (or 2 smaller heads)
1 litre of vegetable stock
2 large handfuls of finely grated parmesan
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 handful of hazelnuts, finely chopped
Pinch of chilli flakes
1. Peel and roughly chop the onion, potato and garlic into small chunks.
2. Heat a drizzle of olive oil (a couple of tablespoons will do) to a deep heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Fry the onion and potato chunks for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until the onion is starting to look translucent. Add the garlic and fry for another couple of minutes.
3. Chop the broccoli head into small florets. Chop the stalk into small pieces and add the whole lot, florets and stalk, into the pot. Cover with about 1 litre of vegetable stock, or so that the broccoli is almost covered. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the broccoli, particularly the stalk pieces, is very tender.
4. Remove the soup from the heat and use a hand-held blender to blitz the soup until smooth. Now stir through most of the Parmesan cheese, holding back a little to sprinkle on the top when serving the soup. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. You won’t need too much salt because of the delicious Parmesan cheese.
5. Serve the soup hot in bowls, with a sprinkling of finely chopped hazelnuts and a pinch of chilli flakes on top, finishing with an extra sprinkling of Parmesan cheese for good measure. Serve with good bread, generously buttered, on the side.
Storecupboard Essentials: Parmesan
Parmesan is an essential part of my kitchen. I usually have a supermarket wedge of Parmesan in my fridge, which last for ages and come in handy when pasta or soup is on the menu. Occasionally I splash out on a wedge from Sheridan’s Cheesemongers. The difference really is massive between a mass-produced cheese and an artisanally nurtured Parmesan so ask your cheesemonger next time for something special.
This recipe first appeared in The Irish Independent on 2nd of February 2017