What is it about a good, thick steaming soup that conjures up autumn? Perhaps it is a pumpkin or carrot soup’s bright orange color that reminds us of the vivid fall leaves. The cooking and eating of soup is also a process like the transformation of the trees, a slow but recognizable one that puts us in a certain mood after a long hike in the woods. Think of butternut squash and how it resembles the very color of a changing yellow leaf. Or how tomato soup mimicking the red leaves.
Soup has a history all its own. It was originally made by using hot stones placed in the liquid; this cooking technique was employed before pots that could handle the heat of fire were invented. It is an ideal place for leftovers too where you can use meat and bones from a turkey so that nothing goes to waste.
Soup has even made it into folk literature with the story of Stone Soup. Someone visiting a town makes soup with a stone in it and all the villagers come by and contribute vegetables and spices, bringing communality to the place through food.
Known in Old French as soupe, or liquid food, soup is no longer just something you get from a Campbell’s can anymore, and many Connecticut restaurants across the state highlight homemade creations that are absolutely made for fall, everything from hearty Guinness Stout soup recipes to wicked clam chowders. What better pairing is there with tomato soup than a grilled cheese? Nothing tastier on a crisp cold day. What about those luscious chunks of lobster in a creamy bisque?
Let’s not forget the health benefits of soup either. Miso soup, along with yogurt, is one of the few foods that contain active cultures, the good bacteria that fight the bad. Chicken noodle soup has long been known as a cold killer, and is one of the few meals you can eat when you’re sick. It is a meal that you cannot eat fast; you simply have to take your time, which is very good for your digestion. It is the quintessential “slow” food.
Usually a first course, soup is the perfect beginning to a meal because it whets the appetite without being too filling. From broths to bisques there is such a culinary creativity nowadays with soups, and fall is the perfect time to experiment with making your own. Pumpkins are in season and ripe for the picking, high in antioxidants and the ideal base to which you can add ginger and other spices.
When Act Two met with three top restaurants in different counties in Connecticut, The Cask Republic in New Haven, The Ginger Man in South Norwalk and Max’s Oyster Bar in West Hartford, we asked their talented chefs for the best seasonal soup recipes during September, October and November. As autumn deepens, these are perfect recipes for you to try yourself:
(The Cask Republic, New Haven), serves 8
The Fall Chicken Farro Soup is a variation on a favorite from The Cask Republic in New Haven, that uses grano farro, an original Mediterranean grain akin to spelt. “Fall is a really great time to enjoy this soup and the addition of the farro lends a nutty flavor to this light broth,” said The Cask Republic’s Chef Carl Carrion. “Unlike many grains the farro is gluten free, so everyone can enjoy. You could also substitute vegetable stock and leave out the chicken for a true vegetarian gluten-free soup.”
2 cups of cooked farro (follow package directions)
1 onion small dice
1 carrot small dice
3 stalks celery small dice
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped spinach
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes quartered
1/4 cup asparagus
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
8 cups chicken broth
2 cups cooked diced chicken breast
3 tablespoons butter
In a 4-quart pot heat up 2 tablespoons of cooking oil on medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery and chopped garlic to oil. Cook vegetables until onions start to become translucent.
Add sherry vinegar, asparagus, scallions, spinach and cherry tomatoes to the vegetable mix and continue to cook for another 3 minutes.
Finally, add chicken broth, diced chicken and cooked farro to pot, and bring to a boil.
Take pot off stove, and stir in butter.
Add fresh herbs, then season with salt and black pepper to your taste.
(The Ginger Man, Norwalk), serves 8
The Ginger Man in South Norwalk offers the very creative Sweet Potato Clam Chowder, mixing a popular autumnal vegetable with classic chowder. “The Ginger Man” has a slight twist on traditional New England clam chowder and it may be subtle,” said their chef Henry Reilling, “but the use of sweet potato in place of Idaho potato brings an interesting sweetness to the overall flavor profile. Chowdafest Champs 2013…our fourth title.”
1 3/4 cups of bacon, chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 1/2 quarts chopped clams & clam juice (store bought in can or bottle)
2 cups of heavy cream
1 large sweet potato peeled chopped
1/4 bunch of fresh parsley
2 teaspoons dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
roux (one stick unsalted butter, and one cup flour.)
Render down chopped bacon in a frying pan to crispy texture. Drain when crispy and save bacon fat for next step.
Cook onion, celery, carrot and thyme in bacon fat for about 5 minutes.
Add clams and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Add heavy cream and bring to a simmer.
Add sweet potatoes and cook for 20 minutes.
In a separate pot, melt one stick of unsalted butter and add flour slowly while constantly whisking on low heat until smell resembles popcorn. This becomes the “roux.”
Whisk in roux slowly and bring to a light boil and continue cooking until thick (about 10 minutes).
Finish with fresh chopped parsley, thyme, and extra virgin olive oil.
(Max’s Oyster Bar, West Hartford), serves 6
Max’s Oyster Bar in West Hartford makes use of butternut squash with the sweet and salty Butternut Squash Bisque. “This is one of our favorite fall soups to run,” says Max’s chef de cuisine, Michael Lee, “incorporating wonderful seasonal ingredients and duck confit as a garnish. Some ideas to use as an additional garnish are smoked maple syrup or pine needle oil.”
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
1/2 large carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
4 sprigs fresh thyme, rinsed
5 cups chicken stock or canned chicken broth
2 cups apple cider
2 cups heavy cream
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Heat the oil in a large pot and sauté the onion, carrot, and celery until the carrot and celery are soft and the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the squash and thyme and sauté until all of the vegetables are coated with oil, about 2 minutes.
Add the stock and the 2 cups of cider and simmer until the squash is very soft, about 30 minutes.
Remove from heat.
Puree the mixture, in small batches, in a blender on medium speed until smooth and well blended.
Place the pureed mixture into another pot and stir in cream, cider and stock to achieve the desired consistency.
Add the salt and black pepper.
Heat gently and serve.
Place 2 ounces of warm duck confit atop each bowl of bisque with maple syrup drizzle and crushed ginger snap cookies.
4 duck leg portions with thighs attached, (about 2 pounds) excess fat trimmed and reserved
1 tablespoon plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
10 garlic cloves
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon table salt
4 cups olive oil
Lay the leg portions on a platter, skin side down. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the kosher salt and the black pepper.
Place the garlic cloves, bay leaves, and sprigs of thyme on each of the 2 leg portions.
Lay the remaining 2 leg portions, flesh to flesh, on top. Put the reserved fat from the ducks in the bottom of a glass or plastic container. Top with the sandwiched leg portions. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt.
Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours.
Before cooking, preheat the oven to 200 F.
Remove the duck from the refrigerator. Remove the garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and duck fat and reserve.
Rinse the duck with cool water, rubbing off some of the salt and pepper. Pat dry with paper towels.
Put the reserved garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and duck fat in the bottom of an enameled cast iron pot.
Sprinkle evenly with the peppercorns and table salt. Lay the duck on top, skin side down. Add the olive oil. Cover and refrigerate for 12 to 14 hours, or until the meat pulls away from the bone.
Remove the duck from the fat. Strain the fat and reserve. To store the duck confit, place the duck leg portions in a container, cover with the reserved cooking fat, and store in the refrigerator. Alternately, pick the meat from the bones and place it in a stoneware container. Cover the meat with a thin layer of some of the strained fat. The duck confit can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
by Mark Damon Puckett