Vegetable soups should be anything but meek. They should taste robustly of the essences of the vegetables they are made from, with a bold, earthy, natural flavor.
Too often the vegetable flavor is delicate and mild, though. Recipes frequently try to compensate by burying what little vegetable flavor there is with chicken broth, an excess of cream or milk, or an overabundance of spices.
For superior vegetable soups, we call on a technique that is more typically reserved for making stock: using the seeds, peels, cores, and other trimmings. This is standard practice when making stock or broth to use as a base for other dishes, not only because it’s economical and reduces food waste but also because it builds deep flavor. For example, we love to simmer tough shiitake mushroom stems along with the caps to make mushroom broth for soba noodles.
It’s a sound principle, so why not apply it to vegetable soups? Many recipes for vegetable soup don’t start with that robust base of vegetable broth, so you miss out on the deep flavor that broth brings to the table. But you don’t have to. Using the whole vegetable—nose to tail, so to speak—ensures that no opportunity for vegetable flavor is wasted. You can puree some soft cooked scraps, like sweet potato skins, broccoli stems, or cauliflower cores, right into a vegetable soup.
When making a pureed soup from hard-skinned winter squash, sautéing the squash seeds and fibers in butter at the outset builds a potent, aromatic flavor base. Then, strain the soup before blending, leaving behind just the taste. This technique also works for other types of vegetable soups beyond pureed ones. When making corn chowder, for example, think of the stripped corn cobs as you would chicken bones for stock; they are full of flavor and body. Drop the shucked
cobs into the soup pot to simmer right along with the corn kernels to release their starch and any remaining corn “milk” for richer texture and deep corny flavor.
1A To use squash seeds and fibers Quarter unpeeled squash and remove seeds and fibers. Sauté seeds and fibers with fat and aromatics in Dutch oven.
2A Steam squash in steamer set right into Dutch oven. When tender, remove, let cool, and scrape flesh from skin using soupspoon.
3A Strain cooking liquid from pot through fine-mesh strainer into large measuring cup. In batches, puree cooked squash with strained liquid in blender until smooth.
1B To use corn cobs Cut kernels from halved ears of corn. Reserve kernels and cobs separately.
2B Cook corn kernels with aromatics and seasonings until softened and golden brown.
3B Add corn cobs to pot with remaining soup ingredients and simmer until soup is ready. Discard cobs before serving.
Curried Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
Serves 4 to 6
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS Butternut squash soup should boast brash orange color, luxurious texture, and unapologetic squash flavor. Unfortunately, many recipes bury the bold flavor of the squash beneath chicken stock, an excess of dairy, or a potpourri of baking spices. The consistency of the soup is another problem, with some being too thin and others too porridge-like. Many recipes call for laboriously peeling, chopping, and either sautéing or roasting the squash before incorporating it into the soup, but those cooking methods can cause the finished soup to taste gritty or mealy. We found that steaming was the best way to achieve velvety squash soup. We didn’t even need to peel the squash first, since the softened flesh could be scooped from the skin with a spoon after steaming. Plus, using the squash seeds and fibers in the cooking liquid infused the liquid with the squash’s essence. After straining, this liquid became an indispensable flavor component. Velvety and permeated with a heady squash flavor, our soup was thick but not custardy, sweet but not pielike. A tart apple, such as a Granny Smith, adds a nice contrast to the sweet squash, but any type of apple may be used.
4tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1large shallot, chopped
2½pounds butternut squash, quartered and seeded, fibers and seeds reserved
1teaspoon table salt
1large apple, peeled, cored, and quartered
½cup heavy cream
1teaspoon packed dark brown sugar
2teaspoons curry powder
1 Melt 2 tablespoons butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add shallot and cook until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in squash seeds and fibers and cook until butter turns orange, about 4 minutes.
2 Stir in water and salt; bring to boil. Reduce to simmer, place squash and apple cut side down in steamer basket, and lower basket into pot. Cover and steam until squash is completely tender, 30 to 40 minutes.
3 Using tongs, transfer cooked squash and apple to rimmed baking sheet. Let cool slightly, then scrape cooked squash from skin using soupspoon; discard skins.
4 Strain cooking liquid through fine-mesh strainer into large liquid measuring cup. Working in batches, puree cooked squash and apple with 3 cups strained cooking liquid in blender until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Return pureed soup to clean pot and stir in cream, sugar, curry powder, and remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Return to brief simmer, adding additional strained cooking liquid as needed to adjust consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
Classic Corn Chowder
Serves 6 to 8
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS This silver-bullet recipe delivers all the best qualities of a great corn chowder: velvety texture, strong corn flavor, and plump, juicy kernels. To achieve ultimate corn flavor, we included every element of our key ingredient in every step, from kernel to cob—and we boosted flavor further by including some canned corn in addition to the fresh corn. For a sweet and smoky starting place, we sautéed chopped bacon to render its fat and reserved the crispy pieces to stir into the chowder at the end. Cooking the fresh corn kernels and onion in the fat created a toasty, caramelized flavor base. Some canned corn pureed with chicken broth served as a lush thickener that boosted the chowder’s sweet corn flavors. Last, but certainly not least, we dropped our shucked cobs right into the simmering pot to cook alongside the potatoes for a subtle but significant final layer of corn flavor, perfectly finishing off our “nose-to-tail” corn chowder.
2(15-ounce) cans whole kernel corn, drained
5cups chicken broth, divided
3slices bacon, chopped fine
½teaspoon table salt
1pound red potatoes, unpeeled, cut into ½-inch pieces
1cup heavy cream
4scallions, sliced thin
1 Cut kernels from ears of corn by cutting cobs in half crosswise, then standing each half on its flat, cut end. Using chef’s knife, cut kernels off ear, 1 side at a time. Reserve kernels and cobs separately. Puree canned corn and 2 cups broth in blender until smooth.
2 Cook bacon in Dutch oven over medium heat until crispy, about 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towel–lined plate and reserve. Cook onion, corn kernels, salt, and pepper in bacon fat until vegetables are softened and golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes.
3 Add potatoes, corn puree, remaining 3 cups broth, and reserved corn cobs to Dutch oven and bring to boil. Reduce heat to mediumlow and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Discard cobs and stir in cream, scallions, and reserved bacon. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.