Hearty Party!

Invite your friends over for a bowl of homemade soup to warm the soul
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Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock

Winter is in full swing, and it’s my favorite time of year to spend time in a nice warm kitchen cooking up some nutrient-rich food after a month of overindulgences. Is there anything more comforting than sitting down to a bowl of hearty homemade soup to warm things up? Soups aren’t difficult to make; they just take time to prep and to cook — which is why I like to recruit a helper or two. 

One of my favorite healthy habits is to keep homemade soup on hand in the fridge, and more in the freezer. When I’m making soup, I always make more than one soup at a time, since I’m going to be in the kitchen for a while anyway.  

When I think of nutrient-rich foods, I think veggies, fish, meat, and beans. In the wintertime, I like roasted veggies for soups, sides, and appetizers. One of the great things about roasting veggies is it takes minimal prep time, and roasting gives them a unique flavor that you don’t get from steaming or boiling. Roasting vegetables slowly in the oven allows them to caramelize, and brings out their natural sweetness and flavors. This is a trick I learned in Italy, during my annual foodie tours. Italians love roasted vegetables and serve them all year round, as an appetizer and a side dish. 

Three of my favorite wintertime soups are roasted winter vegetable soup, Italian pasta e fagioli, and dill-infused creamy salmon, potato, and leek. 

Roasted Vegetable Soup: Peppers, carrots, and other colorful ingredients give this soup its pretty shade.
Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock

Roasted Winter Vegetable Soup

Oven-roasting the vegetables until they’re golden and caramelized adds lots of extra flavor to this comforting soup. Add freshly grated parmesan cheese for a creamy finish. 

Serves 4-6 (Double the recipe for leftovers or soup to freeze.)

Ingredients

  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into medium to small chunks
  • 1 red bell pepper, deseeded and chopped into medium to small chunks
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, deseeded and chopped into small chunks
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped into bite-size slices or chunks
  • 3 cloves garlic, left in the skin
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 tsp. coarse kosher salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 fresh sprigs of rosemary 
  • 1 red onion, peeled and chopped into smaller wedges
  • 6 cups vegetable stock (homemade or store bought)
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • Several sprigs of fresh thyme

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the chunks of sweet potato, red and yellow bell peppers, carrots, and garlic cloves (skin on) on a heavy-duty baking tray. Drizzle on the olive oil and sprinkle the salt and pepper lightly. Toss everything together using your hands. Place in the oven for 20 minutes, turning everything over after 10 minutes. When 20 minutes are up, add the red onion wedges and toss everything together again, so the onion gets coated in oil. Return to the oven for another 10-12 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and slightly caramelized. Remove from the oven. 

Put a couple of tablespoons of the roasted vegetables to one side for garnish, and place the rest in a large saucepan. Squeeze the garlic out of their skins into the pan, too. Pour in the stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes. Turn off the heat and blend with a hand-held blender. Stir in the parmesan cheese, and season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Garnish with the reserved roasted vegetables, a sprinkling of grated parmesan, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, and a tiny dash of salt. 

Tips for success

When roasting veggies, be sure to arrange them on enough baking sheets so they’re in a single layer. Crowding can cause the veggies to cook unevenly and steam rather than roast, meaning less caramelization. Don’t forget to toss the veggies in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper before roasting.

Pasta e Fagioli brims with beans and pasta.
Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock

Pasta e Fagioli

This favorite Italian soup is made with pasta, beans, and vegetables. Ditalini pasta is commonly used for this soup, but you can use any short pasta. The secret to Italian soups is to always chop the vegetables into bite-size pieces.

Serves 4-6 (Double the recipe for leftovers or soup to freeze.)

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 large onion, chopped small
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped small
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped small
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced fine
  • Dash chili flakes
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, more for garnish 
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock (for vegetarian option)
  • 1 cup chopped peeled tomatoes, fresh or canned
  • 1 cup Ditalini pasta (pre-cook and keep in the fridge)
  • 2 15 oz. cans cannellini or borlotti beans, drained and rinsed (or 3 1/2 cups freshly cooked beans)
  • 1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
  • Coarse kosher or Himalayan salt to taste 
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese for garnish 
  • 1-inch chunk of parmesan rind (optional) 

Directions

Pre-cook the pasta noodles until al dente. Remove, rinse in cold water, and drain. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and set aside until ready to add to the soup. 

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions, carrots, and celery for 5 to 6 minutes, or until they’re soft and translucent. Add the garlic, chili flakes, rosemary, bay leaves, and a dash of salt, and sauté another minute or two. Add the stock and tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the rosemary and bay leaves. Add the beans, and continue cooking for 5 to 6 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the pasta and parsley, then add salt and black pepper to taste. Note: If you want a little creamier consistency, pulse-blend quickly with a hand-held blender just a few times.

Serve in individual bowls. Garnish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, some freshly grated parmesan cheese, and a small piece of fresh rosemary.

Tips for success

Do not cook the pasta in the soup if you’re making enough for leftovers or want to freeze some. It’s better to cook the pasta ahead of time, undercook it a couple minutes, then drain and run cool water over it to stop the cooking. Toss with a splash of extra virgin olive oil so noodles won’t stick together.  Add the noodles at the end, just before serving, or add them to the soup when you’re reheating it. Don’t freeze the soup with the noodles in it, as they will be too mushy and change the texture and freshness. Just thaw the soup, heat it up, and add freshly cooked noodles before serving.

Salmon, Potato, and Leek Soup: Don’t forget the dill!
Photo courtesy of Dawn Bause

Dill-Infused Salmon, Potato, and Leek Soup 

This is one of my all-time favorite soups. As a big fan of salmon chowder and the French potato-leek soup, this recipe hits all the spots. 

Serves 4-6 (Double the recipe if you want leftovers and to freeze some.)

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 leeks, thinly sliced, white and light green parts only, rinsed, quartered lengthwise and sliced
  • 2 carrots, diced bite-size
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed bite-size
  • 2 tbsp. flour (substitute a gluten-free flour like potato or rice flour if needed)
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt (to taste)
  • 2 pounds skinless salmon fillet, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half 
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 2 generous handfuls of fresh dill, chopped (about 1 tbsp. chopped dill per serving)
  • 1 lemon, sliced thin 

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to caramelize (about 2 to 3 minutes). Add the carrots and potatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to soften (about 4 minutes). Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir until the vegetables are evenly coated. Add the vegetable stock, water, black peppercorns, and bay leaves, plus a handful of dill. Season with salt to taste. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through. Add the salmon pieces and stir gently to distribute them evenly in the pot. Cover the pot and simmer until the fish is cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the cream and butter, and taste to adjust for salt. Serve with fresh dill and lemon slices. 

Tips for success  

If you’re making extra soup to freeze, omit the cream. When you thaw the soup and reheat it, add the cream just before serving. When freezing soup, be sure to use an airtight container or freezer bag. I always let the soup cool before freezing.


Photo courtesy of Dawn Bause

Chef Dawn Bause, left, was born, raised, and is still living on Long Lake in Commerce Township. Her love for food and cooking began as a teenager studying abroad. Five years later, she returned home to open several European-style restaurants. Her love for Italy and Italian food started after her wedding in Venice in 1991. Soon thereafter, she co-authored the cookbook “Romance Begins in the Kitchen, Romantic Italian Recipes and their Complementary Wines” with Modesta DeVita and Nidal Daher. In 2006, she and her husband, Fred, started the travel company Viva Italy Tours, LLC. They enjoy leading small groups on food and wine tours in Italy.
More info:
vivaitaltytoursllc.com 

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