You see, when I was a student at UCLA oh so many moons ago, one of my favorite things to do was go to the cafe in Kerckhoff Hall for lunch. They had a cream of broccoli soup there that was just divine. It was served in a bread bowl, had big chunks of broccoli and just the right texture -- not so creamy that it was practically congealed, but not so thin that it was like water, either. If I opted not to have the bread bowl, I'd have it with a toasted cheese bagel.
I still dream of that soup. I haven't gone back for it since I graduated -- I don't know if that cafe still exists, and if it does, that they even still serve the soup, or if they do, if they use the same kind they did before (I doubt it was made in house). But even if everything were the same, I'm not the same, my palate has developed a lot since then, and I bet it wouldn't be as good as my memory. So I'm not going to be seeking it out.
I can, however, attempt to make my own version of this soup at home. In fact, it's been a kind of quest of mine. I've tried sooooooo many different broccoli soup variations over the years, but they've all been disappointing. That's why I've never posted about it. First, most of the recipes use a lot of cheese. I didn't remember this soup being a "broccoli cheese soup," but maybe I just didn't know it was in there, so I was game to try it out. Several recipes later, I was convinced that cheese was not involved. Cheese just made the soup grainy and gave it an unpleasant texture, especially when heated to high temperatures (which is a requirement of mine; I like my hot soups SUPER HOT. There's nothing worse than tepid soup) -- the cheese would separate. Ick. Second, the recipes used either a lot of cream, which STILL didn't make it thicken as it was supposed to, so added a ton of calories for no reason, or no cream, and claimed that using a stick blender to homogenize the whole thing would give it a thick texture -- which didn't actually work very well, it wasn't a creamy thickness, and the next day all the blended vegetables settled to the bottom of the pot, with the water-like broth at the top. Ew. And for me, big, identifiable chunks of broccoli is a must, which blending would make difficult if not impossible.
Well, I have found the recipe that finally resembles the soup I love and remember -- at least in the most important aspects. It's thick, chunky, and makes my mouth sing with happiness. It's creamy in just the right way, yet uses very little cream compared to other recipes, and no cheese at all (except for the cheese you sprinkle on top if you like, but the soup is so rich you really don't need it). It's also for my more-sophisticated palate, with depth of flavor coming from cooking the vegetables a good, long time, white wine, and frozen cubes of demi-glace I keep around to give more oomph to just about anything. You can, of course, use store-bought demi-glace, or simply substitute with regular broth. The soup will still be delicious.
The funny thing is that the recipe looked so plain and simple (and I'd been burned so many times before) that instead of actually using broccoli, which I didn't have, I substituted it with what I did have on hand -- Brussels sprouts, which I quartered. As much as I like Brussels sprouts, and as delicious as the soup turned out, I can't wait to make this properly, with broccoli, which is probably my favorite vegetable. But it definitely works with both!
The soup is a little more rustic than one might expect from a cream soup. Grated carrot, celery, and onion display themselves unapologetically. For a less rustic look, I suppose the vegetables could be pureed before the saute step, which would 'hide' them better. I may try it next time just to see if that actually works, though having them be obviously there doesn't affect my enjoyment at all.
I should also mention that after refrigerating, the soup thickens up quite a bit. When reheating, add enough water while stirring to get to the consistency you like.
Cream of Broccoli (or Brussels Sprouts) Soup (recipe adapted from The Domestic Goddess)
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- 1 head broccoli, divided into florets (or 1 lb Brussels sprouts, halved if small, quartered if large)
- 1/2 red onion, diced
- 1/2 vidalia (or other sweet) onion, diced
- 2 sticks celery, finely chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled, finely chopped or grated
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tbsps freshly chopped parsley
- 7 tbsps flour
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 2 cubes frozen demi-glace (about 2 tbsps)
- 1 cup water (or instead of the demi-glace and water, use another cup of chicken broth)
- 1 cup white wine
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 cup whipping cream
- Melt the butter and olive oil in large, heavy saucepan over medium heat.
- Add the broccoli, onion, celery, carrots, garlic, and parsley. Stir to combine the vegetables with the fat.
- Cover and cook about 10 minutes, or until the onion and broccoli are tender, stirring occasionally.
- Add the flour and stir the mixture until the flour has almost completely disappeared (one or two specks is okay).
- Add the chicken broth, demi-glace, water, and wine. Cover and simmer the soup for 40 minutes. Stir and scrap the bottom every once in awhile, as at this point the soup may stick and you don't want the bottom to burn.
- Taste the soup and adjust seasonings -- add thyme and salt/pepper if needed.
- Add the cream and cook through, about 5 minutes.