Sunday, May 24, 2015

Soup As a Meal

Bean, Vegetable and Sausage Soup (photo by Andy Mills)
I used to associate soup with being sick.  I’d be lying in bed, and my grandmother would bring me a bowl of homemade chicken soup.  I’d slurp it up and feel better.

Actually, I think this is a false memory.  My grandmother lived too far away to bring me soup, although whenever we visited her chicken soup was invariably on the menu.
  My mother’s go-to remedy for illness was canned tomato soup, which had its own distinctive taste.  Neither soup will I ever willingly eat again.

Bacon and Tomato Soup is another matter.  I first tasted it in a cooking class, and it was magical.  I ate three bowls on the spot and then made it for dinner that very night.  Sometime later I discovered the joy of canned lentil soup, and it also became a go-to meal. 

My food world really opened up when Bart and I moved to London.  At first I was distraught because English bacon didn’t taste like American bacon, and I couldn’t find canned lentil soup. 

How silly I was.  Can I blame it on youth?  Eventually I discovered that Sainsbury’s, my local grocery store, sold bags of dried lentils and that bookstores sold cookbooks that included recipes for lentil soup. 

I also stumbled across Elizabeth David, a noted British food writer who helped transform British food from stodgy to distinctive.  Soon I was trying her recipes for Oeufs a la Monteynard (an egg/rice casserole) and Coq au Vin (Chicken in Wine Sauce) from her French Country Cooking. 

Living in another country did wonders for my cooking.  Heavy-duty dishes like Split Pea Soup, Pasta and Bean Soup, Clam Chowder and Tortilla Soup became family traditions.  They’re easy to make and filling – perfect one-dish meals.  When I worried there wouldn’t be enough to fill us up, I added some crusty French bread and a salad. 

In honor of my first favorite soup, here’s the recipe:
Bacon and Tomato Soup - serves 2 (adapted from “Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen”
4 slices bacon
1 small onion
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil (if needed)
2 tablespoons flour
1 15-ounce ready-cut tomatoes
Dash ground black pepper
Dash salt
1 bay leaf
2 cups milk

Cook the bacon in a medium-size pot over medium-high heat.  When the bacon is crisp, about 10 minutes, remove and drain on a paper towel.  Pour the bacon fat left in the pot into an empty can and discard it.  Or, if you’re not worrying about cholesterol, leave it in the pot and use it instead of the oil called for.

Peel the onion and chop it into 1/2-inch pieces.  Add the oil to the pot (if not using the bacon fat) and begin heating over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it begins to soften.  Add the flour and stir until fully absorbed.

Add the tomatoes and their liquid, black pepper, salt and bay leaf and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat.  Turn down the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 2 minutes.  Stir occasionally.  The mixture will begin to thicken.  Add the milk and heat until the soup is hot but not boiling.  Cut or break the cooked bacon into bite-size pieces and drop into the soup.  Remove and discard the bay leaf.  Serve.