Thursday, June 2, 2011

From the Farmer's Market: Broccoli Cheese Soup

In my farm box last week I got two big bunches of broccoli.  I was planning on roasting them as a side dish, but then what should have been a warm summer day turned into a cold wintry one, so soup sounded like a good idea. 

This is based on a Cooking Light recipe, but with a few modifications.  The original called for Lite Velveeta Cheese, but I used a combination of low-fat cream cheese and grated Mexican blend as this was what I had on hand (and sounded so much better than Velveeta anyway!)  It was very easy and came together in about half an hour.  I had a second helping for my lunch today, and I think it was even better than yesterday when I made it.

Start off by sauteing some onions and garlic in a little olive oil, then add the broccoli (cut up into small florets), along with some chicken broth.  I also used part of the broccoli stalk, cut into about the same size as the stalk on the florets, so that they would cook in the same time. 

After simmering for about 10 minutes, add milk combined with a little flour and bring to a boil again to thicken.  Add the cheese, puree with an immersion blender, and that's it!  (If you don't have an immersion blender, transfer in batches to a food processor or blender to puree, being careful as the soup is very hot.  If you don't know what an immersion blender is, please see my separate post.

Here's the recipe:

Broccoli Cheese Soup
Serves 6

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb broccoli florets
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 1/2 cups low fat milk
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 oz low-fat (neufchatel) cream cheese
4 oz grated Mexican blend cheese (or grated cheddar)
crumbled bacon (optional)

  1. Pre-heat soup pot over medium heat.  Add oil and onions and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and saute another two minutes.
  2. Add broccoli and chicken broth to pan.  Bring soup to a boil; reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.
  3. Whisk flour into milk until smooth, then add milk mixture to soup.  Bring to the boil and cook until the soup thickens, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add cheeses and pepper and stir until cheese has melted.
  5. Blend soup with an immersion blender, or transfer to a food processor or blender and process until smooth.
  6. Check seasoning and add salt to taste.
  7. Serve with bacon bits and a drizzle of olive oil (optional)
Nutrition per serving (about 1 1/3 cups): 260 calories, 127 calories from fat, 14.5 g total fat, 8 g saturated fat, 38 mg cholesterol, 308 mg sodium, 19 g carbohydrates, <1g fiber, 15 g protein

Tools, Tips, and Techniques: Immersion Blenders

One of my favorite electrical appliances in the kitchen is my immersion blender (sometimes called a stick blender).  I was reminded yesterday just how useful mine is when I was making broccoli cheese soup.  I know, who'd have thought I'd be making soup in Sacramento in June!

Pureed soups are so great as the vegetables act as a thickener when pureed, so it's easy to make a hearty soup that is still very healthy.  Without an immersion blender the mixture needs to be transferred to a food processor or blender which can be a hazard in itself as it is usually piping hot.  Although a food processor will do a pretty good job at pureeing the soup, a blender will give the smoothest result, but again care must be taken when operating this with hot liquid. 

With an immersion blender the soup can be pureed right in the saucepan, which is safer, faster, and also saves on the dirty dishes.  One note of caution:  If you are not using a cordless immersion blender, be sure to turn off the burner before starting to blend so that you don't burn through the electrical cord by mistake!

Another advantage of the immersion blender is that you can puree the soup to your desired consistency. You can leave it a little chunky, or puree it until smooth.  If you like to have some pieces of vegetable left in your soup, you can also remove some with a slotted spoon before pureeing, then add them back to the soup later.

The blender also works great for getting lumps out of sauces (that's what I remember my mother using hers for the most!), smoothies and milkshakes, and mixing pancake and waffle batters.  What do you use yours for?

Cleanup is a breeze too.  Just run the blade under hot water or wash with a soapy brush or sponge.  In some models, the blades detach from the motor and are dishwasher safe.

Prices vary for immersion blenders.  On they start as low as $15 and go all the way up to over $500 for a commercial model.  The more expensive models tend to have more powerful motors which result in a smoother soup or batter, and they often have multiple speeds as well as additional attachments such as whisks and choppers.

Mine is a mid- to low-end model by Braun.  It has one speed and it came just with a plastic beaker for mixing drinks.  I also have a blender, food processor, stand mixer and hand mixer, so I don't really need any other attachments!  The blade does not detach from the motor on mine - it's just one piece - nothing to lose!  I use mine mostly for pureeing soups, and it suits me just fine.

This one by Cuisinart on is very reasonable at $28 and has excellent customer reviews, but there are many others offering different features and at varying prices.