Cream of Broccoli Soup, Catering to Aunt Pat

The subtitle of this blog includes the word “Remembrances” for a reason: so many foods bring back memories and, vice versa, a family memory or contact with a family member often stirs mental meandering back into kitchens where certain foods were treasured. In sharing our stories along with related recipes, I believe connections are made between all of us. The lead-in to this recipe is a bit longer than earlier ones since some of those memories kept flooding in, needing to be expressed.

I was in first grade when we moved into a third-story walk-up apartment above the National Auto Store on Central Avenue in Albany, NY. Uncle Dave, Aunt Dottie, and cousins Diane and Donna had recently vacated the flat; and we left our small South End digs, with its 2-apartments-sharing bathroom, to move to bigger and better space (every flat had a bathroom). Central Ave was the “uptown” shopping area (but don’t take that term to mean “upscale”), a wide street of merchants and shoppers by day and, at night after business hours, less well foot-traveled but still active with traffic making its way from one end of the city to the other. A few evening jolly-makers also headed to or from various bars and grills within blocks of us, on Central or Lark Street or perhaps around the corner on Lexington (where Mom and my aunts liked to stop for pizza at the Shamrock Tavern after bingo).

From my third-floor perch, I was well-entertained on some nights just watching the world go by, said panorama occasionally halting within my eyes’ reach to offer a view of a lovers’ embrace or kiss, a heated argument (perhaps morphing into a real fist-flying fight), an inebriated fellow swaying his way either homeward or to the next beer joint or, rarely, a fender bender (which always held the exciting possibility of turning into the afore-mentioned fist-flying!). But for daytime entertainment, since we were not allowed to walk alone to friends’ houses on side streets until at least fourth or fifth grade, my brother George (and our brother Bill, who arrived a decade later) and I had to invent ways to occupy ourselves either indoors or on our small dilapidated back porch – or tramp across the hall to Aunt Pat’s and Uncle Doug’s apartment. They had no children and, at least most of the time, enjoyed our noisy visits.

We adored our total-opposites aunt-and-uncle duo. Aunt Pat was the boisterous, irreverent, laughing woman who was the first up on any dance floor when the music started; and Uncle Doug’s quiet, calm presence offered an invitation to sit alongside of him as he sipped his beer and watched television (or better yet, for my brothers and cousins Diane and Donna, to take off for a day or weekend of fishing). I played many a game with Mom and Aunt Pat, sometimes joined by Grandma Boyd (until she passed away when I was almost 13) – Crazy Eights and Old Maid when younger, but as we aged it became May I (a family favorite also called Chinese Rummy in some circles, I’m told), Scrabble, Army Rummy, Canasta, Samba and more. When they finally moved to another, much nicer living space on Elk Street – I was an adolescent by then – we were devastated. The older couple who later moved in, Lelia and Joe, were nice enough but boring. Although it was a short walk to Elk, about 5 city blocks, it wasn’t nearly as convenient for kids to pop in for a chat or card game.

Aunt Pat is now 83 (a year younger than Mom would be) and, despite some of the usual age-related deteriorations (and surgeries) we’re all destined for, she’s the same ultra-positive person I grew up around. She’s the talker where Uncle Doug was the silent one. Sometimes I’m sure it’s been her positive attitude that’s kept her going so well over the years, that and her Irish gumption. Growing up, my brothers and I counted 19 aunts and uncles between our parents’ families. None of Mom’s and Dad’s “blood” siblings survive today but five of the aunts-in-law still walk this earth- Aunts Pat, Ann, Dottie and Lena (espoused to Mom’s brothers), and Aunt Jean, widow of Dad’s oldest brother (now approaching 100 years old!). Of all of these, Aunt Pat’s the one I continue to feel most drawn to, even when I haven’t seen or spoken with her for many months.

I time my calls to this aunt carefully, only because I know well that both her – and my own – penchants for chatting tend to result in at least an hour on the phone, no matter what’s on the schedule. I lose track of time. We have to “catch up.” And there’s always the feeling of being bathed in the light of unconditional love, just as if Mom were still here with me. Which brings me to the recipe and how I happen to be including it on the blog at this time (betcha you were wondering if I’d ever get to it)…

I called Aunt Pat a couple weeks ago, intending to make a date to take her out for lunch. I’d finally managed to get to a newer little place called the Ultra-Violet Café the week beforehand, on Delaware Avenue in Albany next to the Spectrum Theater, which isn’t far from her apartment. I thought she’d enjoy the soups and sandwiches. Typically mom-like, she countered with, “But I can just make you lunch here.” We compromised: I’m bringing soup to her place this Monday, probably some good bread too, and she’s making her signature deviled eggs. As it turns out, my brother George may join us if his work schedule allows. Maybe even his son Matt (also work-allowing). If that happens, our aunt will be joyous.

When I listed my repertoire of favorite soups, we settled on cream of broccoli. She said she likes broccoli, rejecting the root vegetable (recipe provided on this blog previously) and pumpkin/sweet potato (that one’s to be posted soon; made it several days ago and remembered to take pics!), as well as a simple vegetable concoction based on a Weight Watchers’ recipe. I cooked it up not long after our conversation and froze a good portion for our luncheon. Daughter Kristen got some of that batch to take home, and Bill and I devoured the rest.

History of my Cream of Broccoli Soup: In 1991, I created a cookbook (on my very first computer, the kind that took floppy disks) as a wedding gift for my brother Bill and his wife-to-be, Debbie. It was an act of love written, printed and compiled over a period of only three weeks from 101 favorites gathered over 20+ years of cooking, baking and otherwise-food-creating. My copy is not nearly as pretty as the large binder of plastic-covered recipes given over to Bill and Deb, its cover sewn together by friend Mary Lettko-Hines using kitchen towels I’d purchased because they expressed my exact sentiment, “The Kitchen is the Heart of the Home.” Each entry indicated where I’d found, or from whom I’d received, the original recipe. Here’s what the Cream of Broccoli Soup page noted:

I love cream of broccoli soup, and I love MY cream of broccoli soup the best. You’ve had my soup too. This recipe comes from a cookbook called A Celebration of Soups [by Robert Ackart, Doubleday & Company, 1982] that Mom got for me years ago. My addition to the basic recipe in the cookbook is that I also cook up an extra head of broccoli, chop it up small, and add it to the soup after the recipe has been completed. That’s because I love the thick puréed soup, but I want the pieces of the broccoli floating in it to give it more substance. Bill and Kristen love this soup too. (Of course, Ade wouldn’t touch anything to do with broccoli, but that’s his loss.)

Times change (bro Bill passed away in 2000), I learned a bit more about food, resulting in a further adjusted recipe, and yet Cream of Broccoli continues to be one of my favorites. If you’re among the relatives or friends to whom I’ve either given a photocopy of that original cookbook or a copy of this particular recipe, below find differences to look for in this version – which will be “catered” to Aunt Pat this Monday. Even if you aren’t in that category, I expect you’ll be interested anyway:

  • Instead of simply throwing the first vegetables in the pot to simmer, I now sauté the carrot, onion and celery for a few minutes before adding the potato, bay leaf and stock. Much reading about food matters later (not just from cookbooks but also including my best-loved magazines, Cooking Light, Eating Well, Clean Eating, La Cucina Italia and Rachel Ray Magazine), I’ve been educated on the value of “releasing the flavors” of some veggies that I intend to remain in a soup/dish, ergo the brief sauté. Note that I combine olive oil and butter for the sauté – less saturated fat from tons of  butter, more healthy fats in olive oil (besides, butter helps balance the lower heat tolerance of olive oil so I’m less likely to burn the veggies).
  • I tend not to use canned stock or broth much anymore. Now I look for the boxed stuff, preferably lower in sodium or No Salt, often organic. I want to add my own salt at a healthier ratio to ingredients. It’s easier to find vegetable stock nowadays to use for purely vegetable soups, rather than relying just on chicken (a problem if there are a few vegetarians expected to partake of your fare). On rare occasions, I’ll have made my own stock and frozen it for future use.
  • I hardly ever take the time to scald the dairy before adding it, and I now use less of it since you only need a bit to lighten up, color-wise, and enrich the soup.
  • In recent years, I buy sea salt and grind it for cooking and baking, or I’ll use kosher salt. Believe it or not, most of our “table salt” winds up on the 3-foot walkway leading to our stoop and those concrete steps to the front door –  we can get plenty of snow-and-ice-filled winters around here! I also prefer fresh-ground pepper.
  • I don’t bother with white pepper most of the time because it’s so seldom called-for that it sits too long in the spice cupboard and loses potency. Black is fine.
  • I am a nut for nutmeg, especially fresh-ground with my mini-microplane. A “dash” of nutmeg that I began to add sometime after the cookbook went to Bill and Deb now becomes something like ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon!
  • When I wrote the cookbook, I’d just barely become acquainted with sour cream (heck—never ate broccoli as a vegetable, never mind as a soup, until I’d become apartment-mates with my friend Carol!). Now I also enjoy Greek yogurt as a possible embellishment to many soups (my preference is Fage brand, a nicely thick version that’s produced locally).

Now that’s quite a few “edits” to that first version of mine, let alone the great original in Ackart’s book! I love the newer version even more—it’s a Super-Soup, in my opinion. I’m thinking Aunt Pat will enjoy it. I might even bring along a 4-cup frozen Lentil with Beef Soup resting in our freezer in the garage (concocted about a month ago) for her future consumption. Unfortunately, there’s no pumpkin/sweet potato soup out there waiting to be gifted—that was slurped up in no time. Guess I’ll have to make another lunch appointment with my aunt in order to provide that one!

CREAM OF BROCCOLI SUPER-SOUP

(Number of servings depends on what you and your guests consider a serving;
this batch makes approximately 20-22 cups of soup, enough for a crowd or to freeze several containers)

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
1 pat butter (salted or unsalted)
5 medium-size carrots, peeled and chopped
4 ribs of celery, some of ribbing peeled off, chopped
1 medium-size onion, peeled and diced

2 small potatoes, chopped fine or into small cubes
2 bay leaves

1 32-oz. box of unsalted vegetable broth or stock (can substitute chicken broth, or combine the two)
2 bunches of broccoli (or 2-3 large heads of broccoli), or 4 10oz. boxes of frozen chopped broccoli

½ to 1½ cups light cream, scalded if you like, according to your taste (can also use heavy cream, half ‘n’half or whole milk, although you can go without any dairy if you prefer)

Salt (I use sea salt or sometimes kosher, but table salt is ok) – to taste
Pepper (white or black, fresh ground is best) – to taste
⅛ to ¼ tsp ground nutmeg (optional, but it make is taste Super)

1 additional medium-sized broccoli crown, broken into small pieces, or 1 10-oz package frozen broccoli (this is optional, based on whether or not you like your “cream of” broccoli soup to have some chunkiness to it (which is my preference).

Directions

1.  Sauté the carrots, onion and celery in the olive oil and butter for about 3-4 minutes, just enough to release some of the flavors. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper as it cooks.




2.  In a large saucepan or a Dutch oven, combine sautéed carrot, celery, and onion along with the potato, bay leaves and broth/stock.

3.  Bring liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer the vegetables, covered, for about 20-25 minutes, until potato is tender.

4.  Chop the large heads/bunches of broccoli (or open the containers of frozen chopped broccoli). Add to the water/vegetable mixture and bring to a boil once again. Cover, turn down the heat and simmer for another 20 minutes.


5.  While the larger panful of broccoli and other vegetables simmers, bring the additional (crown of) broccoli or package of frozen broccoli to a boil in salted water and cook until just tender. Drain and set aside, reserving liquid in case needed later on to thin soup.


6.  When the broccoli in the larger pan has cooked, remove the bay leaves.

7.  Using either an electric immersion (hand) blender, a food processor or a blender, purée the mixture until it reaches the texture that you prefer (anywhere from chunky to ultra-smooth). If you’re using a food processor or blender, you will have to do this in small segments, about 2 cups at a time. (Once I bought the hand blender, its convenience makes me reach for it almost every time!)

8.  Add the reserved broccoli that was cooked separately, stirring it into the soup. Season with salt and pepper; add nutmeg.


9.  AT THIS POINT, YOU CAN FREEZE THE SOUP FOR LATER USE. DO NOT FREEZE IT ONCE YOU’VE ADDED ANY DAIRY PRODUCT.

10.  When ready to serve, add your light cream (or other dairy) to heated purèed mixture, stirring well. Adjust for seasoning once again.

11.  Delicious with a dab of sour cream or Greek yogurt. I sprinkle with fresh or dried parsley for a bit of decoration – sometimes even enhance with a few croutons if there’s no crusty bread to go along with it.

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