Remember this famous statement that turned into a social uproar that had broccoli growers and moms everywhere up in arms? It had the Broccoli Growers of America shipping crates of the stuff to Washington D.C., the First Lady trying to apologize for her husband’s gustatory faux pas, it created a veritable Green Revolution, you could say, or more like a Green Battlefield on dinner tables all across America: “If the President doesn’t like it and won’t eat it, why do I have to, mom?” “Because, dear, it is good for you and he’s a culinary numbskull, honey!”
The cooking of certain foods has long been banned from our home, in theory, so they claim, because of the nasty odor that infuses everything, seeps into the sofa fabric, the curtains, the very walls of the apartment and hangs there for days on end, a fetid, foul stench comparable to a dog passing gas in an enclosed space or a backed-up septic tank. Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage fall into this category of the banned. And JP (and needless to say, Simon, and I even think Clem would agree on this one) doesn’t even miss the food itself, the magic that is broccoli, the food of champions (it is so healthy).
When we were kids, we loved our vegetables – even though most came from a can - and we always had veg eating contests at the dinner table: the one who ate the most spinach was Popeye for the day, the one who ate the most broccoli flowerets (tiny trees) was the biggest giant. So watching husband and sons turn up their collective nose at one of my favorite vegetables is indeed incomprehensible to me.
When I saw this month’s Seasonal Food Challenge “In The Bag” (cook a dish using pre-selected seasonal ingredients) announced by new dad and Real Epicurean Scott over at, well, Real Epicurean I decided to hop on the virtual food cart, so to speak, and join the food fun. I looked in the bag handed to me and what did I find? You guessed it! Broccoli. Oh, heavens, how could I keep good my promise to Scott to participate in his challenge and keep the home front happy and tranquil? Even the mere mention of broccoli having been chosen for this cooking event and my desire to participate caused a ruffle, grimaces and complaints.
Happily, when I dug down into the bag, hidden below the (evil) broccoli, I saw that Scott had thrown in some Blue Cheese as well. Yay! Blue cheese is truly a favorite of ours, whether it be bleu d’Auvergne, Roquefort, bleu de Gex, Gorgonzola, Forme d’Ambert, well, you get the point. So I may just be able to sell them something cheesy. Maybe. But I was excited and had lots of fun ideas for this challenge.
But lots of fun ideas dwindle down to something simple when 1) husband is on vacation and there are plans to travel, 2) the month is filled front to back with 4-day weekends and husband wants your undivided attention, 3) The Move with a capital M, as I now call it, is imminent, images of cartons and bubble wrap floating before my eyes and the scary, dank basement calling my name, luring me down, down into the bowels of the building where mountains of damp, dirty boxes overflowing with old scraps of this and that, books and tools and baby clothes and who know what are begging to be taken care of…. And 4) someone has decided to go on a diet.
So I decided on a soup. A simple soup, broccoli slow-simmered with olive oil and broth, puréed then warmed with a bowlful or fresh crab meat gently stirred in and then served with warm-from-the-oven Blue Cheese Croutons. Soup to soothe, soup to heal, soup to nourish and soup to comfort.
And congratulations to Scott and Gosia on the birth of Mia.
BROCCOLI SOUP WITH FRESH CRABMEAT
Based on a recipe from James Peterson’s Splendid Soups
This recipe can be easily doubled.
1 large head of broccoli
¼ cup (62.5 ml) olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
½ tsp dried thyme or 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ - 1 Tbs freshly-squeezed lemon juice, to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Fresh lump crab meat, about 1 cup or as you please *
* Sadly, I used canned crabmeat and I know that it will taste so much better using fresh. I can also see this soup being cooked with fresh shrimp simmered gently in the soup until pink or ladled over fresh sea scallops which have been sautéed in a splash of olive oil until golden and cooked through.
Cut off and discard the large, tough stem of the broccoli. Cut off the flowerets and cut into inch pieces. Trim the remaining stems and then thinly slice.
Put the prepared broccoli with all of the remaining ingredients except the salt and pepper (and start with ½ Tbs of the lemon juice) into a large soup pot.
Bring the soup to a simmer, cover, lower the heat just to keep the soup at a slow simmer and cook for 1 hour.
Remove from the heat and purée the soup. Taste, season with salt and pepper and add more lemon juice to taste.
Before serving, return to low heat, add the crabmeat and heat until warmed through.
Make the Blue Cheese croutons while the soup simmers.
BLUE CHEESE CROUTONS OR STICKS
1 cup (125 g) flour
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup butter, chilled
4 oz (120 g) blue cheese of your choice *
2 Tbs heavy cream or whole milk
1 egg + 1 Tbs cold water for egg wash
1/3 cup (2.7 oz, 75 g) grated Parmesan for dusting
* I recommend a rather strong, firm cheese. I used Forme d’Ambert and chilled it before using.
* The blue cheese can easily be replaced with the same quantity of almost any other grated cheese like cheddar, gruyere or swiss, just something firm enough to either toss in or rub in.
Combine the flour together with the paprika, salt and a generous grinding of black pepper.
Rub or cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse sand.
Chop the blue cheese as best as possible. If too sticky, chill until ready to use. Toss the chopped blue cheese into the flour/butter mixture and work until you have a smooth, slightly sticky dough. I put it into a food processor and processed in order to end up with something smooth without the cheese softening and turning too wet and sticky.
Wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap and chill for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C).
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface to a thickness of less than ¼”.
Brush the surface with the egg wash then sprinkle liberally with the grated Parmesan all the way to the edges.
Cut either into bite-sized crouton squares or ½” x 1 ½” long sticks.
Place the croutons or sticks onto parchment-lined baking sheets and bake for about 15 minutes or until puffed and golden.
This recipe makes plenty of croutons or cheesy sticks to be served with soup, on salads or as an appetizer or accompaniment to a first course.
Results: a nice soup although I added just a tad too much lemon to it, although excellent once I stirred in the crab. And next time I definitely go to the trouble to find fresh crabmeat. I am thinking it may even be good iced. The cheese croutons/sticks are excellent!
And as I was all alone for dinner last night, I am the only one who tasted it. And one of the three walked in and sniffed and said “Oooh, what does that smell like?”