The joy of cooking soup
My Dad used to always say “Your Mom makes the best soup” and coming from my Dad that was a huge compliment. He took as much pride in cooking as he did in the wines that he made. It wasn’t until recently that it occurred to me that my dad was a ‘foodie’ way before his time. In our house, it was always about having great ingredients and of course, great flavour.
So, you could say I learned from the best and I still use my Mom’s basic principles for a good pot of broth – essentially, the base of any great soup. I start with skin on chicken or marbled beef with bones; both fat and bones are really important for flavour and the fat can be skimmed off later when cool.
I then add water, a soup cube instead of salt and the necessary vegetables. My daughter and I have determined that the most important veggie is the onion. Make sure it is a cooking onion for the best flavour. My Mom’s secret trick – keep the skin on for colour and before dropping it into the soup, cut it in half and char on the stove until lightly browned on each open side. It is remarkable what this does for flavour enhancement.
Now, add equal parts carrot and celery so one does not overpower the other. You can also use a great perennial herb called Lovage that tastes and smells just like celery. Add a few cloves of garlic, a tomato and handful of Italian flat leaf parsley. You are now good to go now – simply bring to a boil and then turn down to simmer for about an hour and a half. Once cooled, I strain and save meat and veggies to add back to soup.
I love to make my soups on weekends – it is somehow rewarding to use up week old vegetables in the crisper that would otherwise go to waste. And, it is almost like therapy as the familiar aromas fill the house. In fact, I enjoy cooking soup more than eating it and I love to find out if my kids would like nockerl (a butter dumpling their great grandmother perfected), egg drop or, if I’m in the mood, crepes which are rolled and then finely sliced to become long like a noodle. The crepe version is one of my favourites and always best with finely chopped chives as a garnish.
In winter, I might do a creamy broccoli, cauliflower or potato soup; the possibilities are endless… which is why there is no simple answer to what wine will pair well with soup. Essentially, the base ingredient of the soup dictates the wine. For example a creamy potato leek soup might call for a glass of a bright Trius Sauvignon Blanc as a contrast to the heaviness while a rustic bean soup would beg for an earthy Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir.
There are times when I forego the joy of cooking the soup. But, when I do dine out, I always ask if soups are homemade and will only order if they are. I am often surprised to find many small diners will have the best homemade soups. I am also admittedly a sucker for French Onion soup almost anywhere because, generally, you go can’t go wrong with cheese and bread.
There are however a few soup makers in Niagara that do stand out for me. One is Stone Road Grill in Niagara-on-the-Lake where you can always get a great bowl of homemade soup and The Pie Plate in Virgil is known for a delicious bowl of ginger and carrot. Casa Mia restaurant in Niagara Falls has an amazing stracciatella, though it’s just not the same when I don’t get to experience the joy of hearing “Mom you make the best soup.”