Just to be clear, there is nothing wrong with chicken noodle soup. Or cream of tomato.
I love them both.
But there’s so much more to sip from your spoon on a chilly day — think ginger-carrot soup, Dutch cheese soup or a root-vegetable chowder. And there’s no one better to teach us how to make it than Beatrice Ojakangas of Duluth, Minn.
She does just that in “The Soup & Bread Cookbook” (Rodale, 308 pages, $23.99), her 29th volume, in which she tackles a subject that may be closer to her core than the Scandinavian baking books for which she is known.
She praises the simplicity of that most basic meal — bread and soup — which can be found in one form or another in kitchens around the world. It’s the meal I most associate with her, one that is thrifty, filling and unfussy — one so seasonal you can use it as a calendar of sorts.
Years ago, as a young reporter, I stepped into the Ojakangas household after a long snowy drive through the fields and towering pines of northeast Minnesota. After I shook off the snowflakes and stomped my boots, she led me into the heart of her home — a warm, fragrant kitchen — where a pot of French onion soup was simmering on a back burner. Talk about comfort food. One sip of that and I felt at ease. Interviewing the foremost authority on all things Scandinavian? No problem when a pot of soup was at hand.
Be and breathe
That nourishing bowl has a way of transforming us. Can you imagine eating soup while being angry, and then staying that way after your last spoonful? Of course not. You have to slow down to eat soup. You have to be mindful of your actions or you may spill the contents as the spoon follows the arc from bowl to mouth. It might as well be the “be and breathe” of dining.
And then there’s bread, whether a hearty loaf, simple biscuit or crunchy breadstick. Whatever the shape or flavor, it is sustenance at its most basic, and as natural a pairing with soup as food is to wine.
While many cooks reach for the proverbial “crusty” bread to serve with any bowl of soup, Ojakangas takes her menu planning a bit further, pairing individual soups with specific breads or crackers. “It makes it a little more interesting,” she says. “You want the two to match flavor-wise and texture-wise. And they have to be ready at the same time. That’s the upshot of it.”
She makes it easy for the cook by organizing these recipes by season. A spring pea soup calls for a bread that highlights other seasonal ingredients, in this case chive-dill batter bread. Curried chicken wild-rice soup pairs with oatmeal batter bread, cabbage-hamburger soup with honey whole-wheat cranberry-nut bread.
There are familiar soups and breads in her book as well as surprises, though the traditional ones have flavor ratcheted up for today’s taste buds, whether it’s a simple vegetable soup or a butternut squash version.
“I couldn’t resist doing fresh tomato soup. People don’t think they can do it, but it’s easy and cheap. If you can your own tomatoes, you will be able to make it later in the season,” she said.
Sounds like I need to head to the kitchen. Makes me hungry just talking with her.
Brie and apple soup
Note: This makes a lovely appetizer. The riper the cheese, the more intense the flavor. Pair it with fougasse (recipe below). From “The Soup & Bread Cookbook,” by Beatrice Ojakangas.
2 tbsp. butter
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp. flour
3 c. low-sodium chicken stock, divided
8 oz. round Brie, cut into 1-in. cubes
1⁄4 c. heavy cream
Salt and black pepper
Sliced almonds, toasted
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add onion, celery and apples and cook, stirring often, until the onion and celery are soft, about 10 minutes. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Whisk in 1 cup of stock. Stir in the remaining 2 cups stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and simmer until the onion, celery and apples are cooked, about 20 minutes.
Transfer soup to a food processor or blender and purée until smooth. Return soup to the saucepan.
Just before serving, stir the Brie and cream into the hot soup and stir until the cheese is melted. Taste and add salt and pepper, as needed. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with toasted almonds.
Makes 1 flatbread (about 4 servings).
Note: Fougasse is the French version of focaccia, the Italian flatbread. From start to finish, this bread takes less than two hours, very little of it active time for the cook. It’s best served straight from the oven. The recipe calls for herbes de Provence, a classic mix of dried herbs, which is available at most grocery stores. From “The Soup & Bread Cookbook,” by Beatrice Ojakangas.
1 pkg. (1⁄4 oz.) or 1 scant tablespoon active dry yeast
1 c. warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
1 tsp. sugar
2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. herbes de Provence, or 1 tsp. each dried basil, oregano and rosemary
1⁄4 c. olive oil, plus additional for serving
In a small bowl, combine the yeast, warm water and sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes until the yeast begins to foam.
In a large bowl, or in a food processor, combine the flour and salt. Add the yeast mixture and stir or process until a soft dough forms. Let stand until the dough begins to rise, about 20 minutes.
Stir in the herbs and oil, and mix until well blended. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and with oiled hands, shape into a ball. Place on a baking sheet and press the dough out to make an oval leaf shape, about 10 inches long and 1 inch thick.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Let dough rise until puffy, about 30 minutes. Using a blade, make diagonal slashes down the center and along the length of both sides of the dough. Pull each slash out gently to open the holes to somewhat resemble the veins of a leaf.
Bake until crisp and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool. Tear apart to make individual servings. Serve warm with olive oil for dipping.
Curried Pumpkin Soup
Note: Lovely when served in a hollowed-out pumpkin shell, especially with mini-pumpkins for individual servings. Pair it with cheese bread (recipe below). From “The Soup & Bread Cookbook.”
2 tbsp. butter
2 tsp. curry powder
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, shredded
2 c. low-sodium chicken stock
2 c. half-and-half
1 (15-oz.) can unsweetened pumpkin purée
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1⁄4 tsp. ground white pepper
1⁄4 c. sour cream
Toasted sunflower seeds
Heat the butter in a heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add the curry powder, onion and carrot. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the stock and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
Return mixture to soup pot and stir in the pumpkin, half-and-half, salt and white pepper. Heat over medium heat to a serving temperature. Scoop into soup bowls or pumpkin shells. Top with sour cream and sunflower seeds.
Peppered cheese bread
Makes 2 loaves (24 slices).
Note: Serve with the soup, or use as an hors d’oeuvre, topped with hummus or small pieces of meat or cheese. From “The Soup & Bread Cookbook,” by Beatrice Ojakangas.
3 c. flour, divided
1 pkg. (1/4 oz.) or 1 scant tbsp. active dry yeast
1 tbsp. sugar
11⁄4 c. warm water (120 to 130 degrees)
1⁄3 c. shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
2 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. salt
1⁄2 tsp. hot sauce
1⁄4 tsp. cayenne or black pepper
Olive or vegetable oil
In a small bowl, combine 1 cup flour, yeast, sugar and warm water. Stir until blended and set aside until mixture has begun to bubble and rise, about 10 minutes.
In a food processor, combine remaining flour, Cheddar and Parmesan cheese, butter, salt, hot sauce and pepper; pulse just until well blended. Add yeast mixture and process until the dough comes together in a ball and spins around the bowl 25 times; dough will be in a smooth ball. (If mixing by hand, or kneading by hand, knead until the dough is smooth and not sticky. Be careful not to add more than a tablespoon or 2 of extra flour as you knead.)
If the dough seems very firm, add water 1 tablespoon at a time to make a soft and smooth dough. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time.
Coat a work surface or countertop with cooking spray and turn dough out onto it. Cover with an inverted bowl and let rise for 15 minutes.
Lightly grease a baking sheet. Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a baguette 12 inches long. Place loaves on the baking sheet 4 inches apart and brush with oil. Let stand, covered with a towel, in a warm place until almost doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake loaves until golden, 20 to 22 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.