Roux Awakening: Broccoli Cheese Soup
(Isn’t that the greatest title ever? I’ve had it in my head for a month and I am so proud to use it!)
Let’s be honest here, folks: Panera has the best broccoli cheese soup EVER. I apologize to all the non-Americans out there who have never experienced the awesomeness of dipping a baguette into Panera’s broccoli cheese soup, but take my word for it: this is the soup to aspire to. However, it is definitely not the healthiest item on their menu: a 12-ounce (~350mL) serving has 390 calories and 1500mg of sodium. I am not a fan of all the added sodium in restaurant food. This recipe is slightly healthier because there is no cream, but there is lots of milk to make it creamy – would you eat broccoli soup if it wasn’t creamy?! I know I wouldn’t.
Anyway, I was a little nervous about tackling this recipe because it requires making a roux, which is a mixture of equal parts butter and flour. Roux are the basis of many sauces and gravies, so it’s important to be able to make a simple one well. But they are also slightly tricky, because if not done well they can end up lumpy instead of smooth. I don’t know why I was afraid of making a roux, but I am not alone; this recipe book I have from the 1960s says:
“It is strange that the most feared recipe by a young homemaker is, perhaps, the easiest and most simple recipe to make – the basic sauce, the basis of all creamed dishes, scalloped potatoes, chicken gravy, and a thousand other dishes. From it springs a myriad of other sauces, all the essence of simplicity, once the technique of making the basic sauce is mastered.”
And after watching my mom make a roux, then making it on my own, I can say that it truly isn’t that difficult and I am confident you will have success! Besides, a few tablespoons of butter and flour aren’t expensive, so if you ruin the first try, you can pick yourself up again and re-try!
Broccoli Cheese Soup (adapted from Cooking on the Side, who got it from a broccoli package)
Serves 6-8 (in practice, I often halve this recipe)
- 4 cups broccoli florets
- 1/2 cup celery, chopped – the original recipe called for a full cup, but I actually hate celery. I just include it because it improves the flavor of the soup.
- 1 cup carrots, chopped
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup onion, chopped
- 6 Tablespoons butter or margarine
- 6 Tablespoons flour
- 3 cups lower-sodium chicken broth – you can also use vegetable broth or sub a little water
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- fresh parsley, if you have it
- 4 ounces (110g) cheddar cheese (or any mild cheese), plus extra for sprinkling – I highly suggest buying a block of cheese and grating it yourself. The pre-grated cheese is coated in flour or an anti-caking agent and it doesn’t melt as nicely.
- In a large pot, bring the water to a boil. Add the broccoli, celery, and carrots and cook for a few minutes, then drain and set aside. (I have no idea why this step is necessary.)
- In an even larger pot, melt the butter and saute the onions until soft.
- This is where you make the roux: add the flour slowly and stir continuously. You might feel more comfortable using a fork. If you feel like things are moving too quickly, you can take the pan off the stove and continue mixing. When it’s formed a smooth paste, congratulations! That’s a roux!
- But it’s not over yet: add the broth to the roux slowly, stirring constantly. The roux thickens the broth up… it’s like magic! Add in the milk slowly too.
- Bring to a boil, then add the grated cheese and stir.
- After the cheese has melted, add the vegetables and garlic power. Cover, reduce the heat, and cook for 40 minutes.
- Sprinkle with a little extra cheddar cheese if you want, and serve with a warm, crusty piece of bread!