February 20, 2010

Soup Innovation

I get the impression that soup is meant to be an inventive process. I like to play with cooking, and I'm always varying my recipes (doesn't everyone?) but soup seems to offer one of the widest and most forgiving canvases for p laying around.

I recently stumbled upon this Crock Pot Blog which appears to be a source of easy-to-prepare slow cooker recipes. Some of them look really, really wonderful.

I decided to use the Italian Zucchini and Bell Pepper Soup as the basis for a weekend soup with a little more oomph. By "oomph" I mean meat.

The great thing about crock pot recipes is that they allow you to do very little cooking with a big payoff at the end. And since time is lately my most valuable commodity (by a long shot) I am going to rely more and more on very easy recipes.

The zucchini soup is simple enough. To quote their ingredient list:

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 (4.5 oz) jar sliced mushrooms, drained
1 (14.5 oz) can chicken broth
1/4 t salt
1 large zucchini, sliced
1 small red bell pepper cut into strips
1 small yellow bell pepper cut into strips
1 t Italian seasoning
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes with Italian herbs

Mmm! Good stuff. You combine everything up to the salt, let it cook for 10 hours and then turn the cooker up to "high" and add the zucchini, pepper, tomatoes and seasoning for the remaining half hour.

My variation:

  • Fry up a mirepoix (onion, carrot and celery) in butter and add that to the crock pot instead of just raw onion.
  • Brown half a pound of Italian sausage and a pound of hamburger (with a bit of Italian seasoning and pepper), squeeze off the fat as best as possible and add the meat to the crock pot.
  • Double the amount of chicken broth to accommodate the meat.
  • Add half a cup of dry sherry.

It's now simmering away and smells amazing. At the very end, I'll add the zucchini, pepper and tomatoes. I'll let you know how it comes out. But check out that Crock Pot blog. I found them via their Facebook page. Facebook is starting to become an actual resource.

Posted by James at February 20, 2010 12:28 PM
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So, I added a can of white beans, a teaspoon of onion powder, a teaspoon of garlic powder and some powdered chicken bouillon (1/2 tsp). I did that to compensate for the fact that I skimmed off nearly all of the fat (rendered out of the meat).

Also, I added a couple of tablespoons of ketchup to add some tang and some flour to thicken.

It came out quite good. Eventually I will make this into my own version of a minestrone-type soup. IMHO it needed more beans and probably some corn. But it was quite excellent. We served it over gemelli.

Posted by: James at February 21, 2010 9:35 AM

Heh. This is basically my default Italian-style soup. I mash up the beans a bit to thicken the soup.

Sometimes I add leftover spaghetti (with sauce) and make it into a casserole, adding stale bread and baking it with cheese on top.

Posted by: Julie at February 21, 2010 11:54 AM

Yeah, this is pretty much a default Italian soup. I think I want more beans in it next time, and corn.

I cook the pasta separate, mainly because I like my pasty al dente; I do not like floppy pasta in my soup. But you could throw any pasta in there near the end, as long as you made sure there was enough liquid.

I just remembered, I threw a couple of teaspoons of red pepper flakes in it, too. One would have been enough, but I liked the spiciness. Especially because we were going easy on the sodium.

Then I out parmesan cheese on when I served it, which give you back your sodium, I guess!

Posted by: James at February 21, 2010 12:47 PM

Oh, right about the pasta. See, I like it good and mushy. But it's already just the way I like it when I add the leftover to the soup, and baking it as a casserole doesn't seem to mush it up any further. (I don't add pasta if I'm going to eat it as a soup; or if I do, it's little pasta, like orzos or O's or stars.)

Lemon juice or cider vinegar are good salt alternatives, too. So is tabasco.
I had no idea there was sodium in parmesan, though I suppose I should have guessed by the taste. The cheese I add is usually provolone or mozzarella with only a handful of parmesan or romano (I think what I actually have is a mix of both) on top because it seems wrong to leave it out entirely.

I don't use a mixed Italian seasoning because there's something in that mix (the particular one I have, prolly McCormick) that I'm not crazy about. It might be the herb called "savory," but without isolating it I can't be sure. (Strangely enough, I DO like that Italian seasoning when I make a Mexican-style pork dish... go figure.) So, instead I just add a lot of thyme and oregano.

I start everything with a mirepoix, always have, except when using the crock pot. Then, I just throw celery, carrot, and onion in raw, which admittedly isn't quite the same, but isn't terribly different either. But I haven't been using the crock pot at all these days, because I'm afraid things will get grossly overcooked and even scorchy. Maybe that's not an issue with soups, though. I just hate leaving it on, unattended, for 11+ hours a day!

Plus, I have the pressure cooker, which does a lot of the long-term stuff pretty fast. That sometimes works out better for my schedule now.

Posted by: Julie at February 22, 2010 7:46 AM

One of the stronger herbs in that mix is sage. It has quite a strong flavor profile. I think it's a good combo for the soup, but I do like sage (in small quantities).

I'm supposing you didn't mean you eat an actual handful of parmesan. 'Cause that would be quite a lot compared to what I sprinkle on. OTOH, at restaurants I've seen people pile the stuff high. i didn't used to like the stuff, but now I do, because it adds so much flavor though you can use so little of it.

Posted by: James at February 22, 2010 8:43 AM

Right, a handful of parmesan on the top of the casserole. But a lot more mozzarella underneath.

Sage could be the culprit in the Italian mix. I like sage with meat, but I'm not crazy about it in anything where there's a lot of tomato. However, I think there's something else in there too, and I suspect it's the vaguely-named "savory."

Posted by: Julie at February 22, 2010 12:28 PM

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