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Cape Flavors

Beach Eats cooking demo highlights Souper recipes

By Denise Clemons | Feb 10, 2014
Photo by: Jack Clemons Mushroom soup with a garnish of parsley, lemon zest and mixed peppercorn.

As part of the programming around its current exhibit, Beach Eats, the Rehoboth Beach Museum invited me to present a cooking demonstration.

Since the event was scheduled for the middle of winter and the day before the Super Bowl, they called it Souper Saturday. They advertised a chance to taste three soups and invited attendees to BYOS or bring your own spoon.

Without kitchen facilities available inside the museum, my approach to the event entailed some creativity. I could always make the soups ahead of time, bring them in crock-pots and ladle out samples. But standing in front of an audience to talk about cooking without actually doing any cooking just didn’t seem like enough.

I decided that I had to bring the kitchen - or at least part of the kitchen - along to the museum with me. Fortunately, hot plates haven’t gone out of style. In fact, they’ve become much more stylish and sophisticated than the ones I used in college. One click on Amazon and I was set.

The next challenge was selecting my favorite soups. Tomato-basil was an easy first choice, as well as an excellent candidate for a make-ahead, slow-cooker soup. Pureed butternut squash and apple soup requires lots of chopping in preparation, but would travel well. Also, this one would be fun for people to try, since the best garnish is a dollop of crabmeat. Finally, a quick-cooking mushroom soup would be a suitable choice to prepare on the spot.

Although I hadn’t planned to start cooking before people arrived, I realized the mushrooms should simmer a bit to completely soften. About five minutes before we were set to start, I had shallots and green onions sautéing in melted butter. Add that to the simmering tomato and squash apple soups, and you can imagine the delightful aromas that greeted people as they walked in the door. With that kind of introduction, I needed to deliver on taste.

We all know the list - salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami - what we can perceive with the thousands of taste buds in our mouth. For those unfamiliar with the term, umami is that rich, meaty taste that feels like a coating sensation over the tongue; you’ll recognize it most clearly in fermented fish sauces, shiitake mushrooms and cured meats.

In order for soup to be more than watery gruel, the combination of ingredients needs to deliver a balanced bit of each of the five tastes in a single sip. Most soups begin with mirepoix, a sautéed mix of diced carrot, onion and celery. This basic building block is found in the first step of many recipes as a way to include several key tastes: salty, sweet, bitter and sour.

The next flavor layer is the signature ingredient or featured focal point. For my three soups these were tomato, squash and mushroom. Once the main ingredient has been cooked with the mirepoix, an enriched liquid in the form of broth or stock is added, followed by appropriate herbs and seasonings. After a taste test and any final tweaks (like a splash of vinegar to keep the squash soup from tasting overly sweet) the bowl is ready to garnish.

Tomato soup plays well with sour cream, which tempers acidity with soothing dairy fat. For the mushroom soup, a combination of lemon zest and parsley adds a bright touch, while a drop of truffle oil reinforces smokiness. Although there were jars of ground nutmeg, ginger and curry to sprinkle on the butternut squash and apple soup, most people tried adding a spoonful of crabmeat for a surprising taste and texture combination.

I’ve included recipes for the soups we shared at the museum last week, and expect the website (www.rehobothbeachmuseum.org) will post a photo of the smiling group brandishing their spoons.

Mushroom Soup

1 bunch green onions

3 shallots

2 T butter

1/2 lb white button mushrooms

1/2 lb crimini mushroms

3 C vegetable broth

2 thyme sprigs

2 T minced parsley

1 T lemon juice

1 T lemon zest

1/4 t salt

1/8 t pepper

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Thinly slice green onions and mince shallots. Add to saucepan and sauté until softened and golden. Brush mushrooms with a damp paper towel to clean. Roughly chop or slice and add to saucepan. Cook, stirring often until mushrooms release their liquid. Continue to simmer until moisture is almost completely evaporated.

Pour in broth and reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until broth has thickened slightly, about 20 minutes. Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl; set aside. Remove thyme sprigs. If desired, puree with an immersion blender, leaving about half the mushrooms intact. Adjust seasonings to taste (especially salt). To serve, garnish with a teaspoon of lemon mixture or a drop of white truffle oil.

Tomato Soup

1 carrot, diced

1 celery stalk, diced

1 onion, diced

1 T olive oil

3 lbs tomatoes*

2 C beef broth

1 T shredded basil

1 t tarragon

salt & pepper, to taste

In a large saucepan, sauté carrot, celery and onion in olive oil until just beginning to brown. Add tomatoes and simmer over medium, stirring often, until they begin to disintegrate. Pour in beef broth, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add basil and tarragon; cover and simmer over very low heat for 20 minutes.

Using a food processor or immersion blender, purée the soup to desired consistency. Adjust seasonings to taste. Garnish with sour cream, crème fraiche or Parmesan crisp.

* Note: this can be a combination of canned, fresh and frozen tomatoes; no need to remove skins.

Parmesan Crisps

1 C grated Parmesan cheese*

1 t flour

1/4 t salt

1/8 t pepper

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper; set aside. Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. Place tablespoonfuls of the cheese mixture on the prepared baking sheet about one inch apart.

Flatten slightly with the bottom of a glass or a spatula. Bake until edges begin to turn golden. Cool on baking sheet for about 10 minutes. Gently transfer to waxed paper and store in an airtight container.

*Note: Do not use packaged shredded cheese, as the shreds are too dry to melt properly.

Butternut Squash & Apple Soup

1 chopped onion

1 chopped celery stalk

1 T olive oil

1 peeled and chopped Granny Smith apple

1 cubed butternut squash*

3 C chicken broth

2 t apple cider vinegar

salt & pepper, to taste

In a large saucepan, sauté onion and celery in olive oil until softened. Add apple and continue cooking until slightly golden. Stir in squash and cook for about 5 minutes. Pour in broth, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cover and reduce heat to low; simmer for about 30 minutes. Purée with an immersion blender or food processor. Whisk in vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, garnish with a dollop of crabmeat or sprinkle with ground curry, nutmeg or ginger.

*Note: If desired, squash may be first boiled or roasted.

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