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Six soup recipes to warm you in winter

Soup, the most basic of dishes, is an important part of every cultural cuisine. Originally “soupe” or “sops” described a hot broth poured on or combined with bread, the bread being the sopping vehicle.

When I was growing up on a ranch in Colorado, the big meal of the day was lunch. Supper, which was the last meal of the day before bed, was often something “soupy” or “stewy,” a simple one-dish meal that was easily digested and helped you sleep. The dividing line between soups and stews is vague! My friend Amy Mintzer recalls that when she went to summer camp as a little girl, they also served the big meal at lunch with some kind of soup for dinner. They called the dinner soup “cream of lunch!”

Here are some of my favorite soups for winter.

This takes advantage of ready-made ingredients like canned beans, making it very quick to put together.

White Bean and ?Tortellini Soup with Kale

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 ounces pancetta or bacon (3 slices), cut into ¼-inch dice

1 small white onion, sliced thinly lengthwise (about 2 cups)

2 teaspoons peeled and thinly sliced garlic

1 cup peeled carrots, cut into ¼-inch dice

½ teaspoon fennel seed

6 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1½ cups (4 ounces or so) store-bought, fresh cheese tortellini

1 15-ounce can (2 cups home-cooked) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

6 small kale leaves, center rib removed and cut into ¼-inch strips

1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

- Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, shaved with a vegetable peeler (1 ounce)

Heat the oil and pancetta in a deep saucepan or soup pot over moderate heat and cook, stirring frequently, until pancetta is browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate.

Add the onion, garlic, carrots and fennel seed to the pan and cook, stirring, until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and, with heat on high, bring to a boil. Add tortellini and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Add the beans, kale and tomatoes and heat through. Season to your taste with salt and pepper. Serve the soup topped with the Parmigiano and reserved pancetta.

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Borscht is claimed by several ethnic groups, especially Ukrainians, Russians, Poles, Lithuanians and Ashkenazi Jews, as their own. Borscht also plays a role in religious traditions of various denominations (Eastern Orthodox, Greek and Roman Catholic and Jewish) that are common in Eastern Europe. In East Slavic countries, “memorial borscht” is served as the first course at a wake. According to traditional beliefs, the soul of the departed either feeds on or is carried up to heaven by puffs of steam rising from bowls of borscht and other hot dishes, such as blini or porridge that are served after the funeral.

In Poland and Ukraine, borscht is usually served at Christmas Eve dinner. In the Eastern European Ashkenazi Jewish tradition, vegetarian borscht served with sour cream and boiled potatoes on the side, known as peysakhdiker borsht, is considered essential during Passover.

There are endless variations of the recipe - meat and meatless, cold or hot. Original versions didn’t include beets but were made from fermented hog weed, giving the soup a sour flavor. Modern recipes still include a sour ingredient - vinegar, lemon or even sauerkraut - to complement the sweetness of the beets. Roasting the beets deepens their flavor and sweetness

Roasted Beet Borscht

Makes 2 quarts serving 6 to 8

2 pounds red beets

4 tablespoons olive oil

- Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 medium sweet red onion, peeled and chopped, about 3 cups

1 cup peeled and chopped carrot

3 cups chopped red cabbage

1 cup chopped celery

2 teaspoons peeled and chopped garlic

1 teaspoon fennel or caraway seed

7 cups beef or chicken stock

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or to taste

2 tablespoons tomato paste

Garnish:

- Sour cream or crème fraiche

1 hardboiled egg, peeled and chopped

- Fresh dill or parsley sprigs

Preheat oven to ?400 degrees. Scrub the beets well and remove leaves and the tap root at the bottom. Place the beets in a baking pan or dish, brush them liberally with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Roast until tender (a skewer should easily pierce them), about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool and rub off skins. Chop into ½-inch pieces and reserve.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, cabbage, celery, garlic and fennel seed. Cook until vegetables are softened and just beginning to color, about 10 minutes. Add stock, reserved beets, vinegar and tomato paste and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.

Leave the soup chunky or puree it according to your desire (I prefer the former). Adjust flavor to you taste with salt, pepper and vinegar. Serve warm or chilled, garnished with a dollop of sour cream, chopped hard boiled eggs and fresh dill or parsley.

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Craig Claiborne, food editor of the New York Times in the 1960s through the 1980s, called this soup “the most elegant and delicious soup ever created … one of the sublime creations on Earth.”

Billi Bi was allegedly named after William B. Leeds, Sr., in the early 1900s. Leeds was a wealthy American tin tycoon who went regularly to Paris, where he was known to dine nightly at Maxim’s, then probably the world’s most noted restaurant. The recipe was created by chef Louis Barthe, and the soup became such a favorite of Leeds that it was kept permanently on the menu in his honor. Sadly Billy, as his friends called him, died in 1908 of a stroke at the Hotel Ritz in Paris.

There are several admonitions about mussels: Don’t pull the beards from the mussels until you are ready to cook them, as this kills the mussels. Also, a mussel’s shell should close if it is tapped on a counter. Any mussels that do not close are dead or filled with mud and should be discarded. All the mussels we buy in the market today are farm-raised and very closely monitored. Given what’s going on in our oceans today, I’d only buy farm raised. Resist the temptation to gather your own. Here’s the original New York Times recipe, with a little editing.

Billi Bi

Makes 2 to 4 servings as a main course, 6 to 8 as an appetizer

2 pounds mussels

1/3 cup peeled and coarsely chopped shallots

2 sprigs parsley, plus chopped parsley for garnish

- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup dry white wine, like pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

1 bay leaf

2 sprigs fresh thyme (½ teaspoon dry)

2 cups heavy cream or crème fraiche

1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

Scrub mussels well to remove dirt and, if necessary, remove beards. Place mussels in large saucepan or Dutch oven and add shallots, parsley, salt, pepper, wine, butter, bay leaf and thyme. Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer 4 to 5 minutes, or until mussels have opened. Discard any that have not opened.

Strain liquid through a fine-meshed strainer and reserve. When cool enough to handle, remove mussels from shells (you might save a few for garnish) and reserve. Discard shells and aromatics.

In a small saucepan, bring reserved liquid to a low boil. Add cream and return mixture almost to a boil, then remove from heat. Let cool slightly then whisk in egg yolk to combine. Return saucepan to heat, continue whisking and let thicken slightly but do not boil.

Adjust seasoning to taste. To serve, arrange mussels in center of large soup dishes and ladle broth over them. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Enjoy!

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In addition to soup, I use this as a base sauce for all kinds of recipes, my favorite being quickly-seared dayboat scallops. Make a big batch and keep in the freezer.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup

Makes about 2 quarts

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced

4 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced

½ teaspoon fennel seed?

1 2-pound head cauliflower, trimmed, cored and cut into florets

3 cups or so vegetable or chicken stock

3 tablespoons dry sherry

- A few gratings of nutmeg

2 cups crème fraiche

- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

- Drops of lemon juice and cayenne to taste

- Drops of peppery extra virgin olive oil

In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic and fennel seed and cook, stirring often, until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes; lower heat as necessary to prevent browning.

Add cauliflower and stock (vegetables should be covered). Bring to a simmer, cover and cook, adjusting heat to maintain simmer. Cook until cauliflower is tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in sherry and nutmeg.

Using a blender, puree cauliflower mixture and crème fraiche to a very smooth consistency. Season to your taste with salt, pepper, drops of lemon juice and a little cayenne, if desired. You can adjust purée consistency by adding less stock, especially if you are going to use as a sauce. Garnish with olive oil. Serve warm.

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This is a hearty, unusual soup that could be the centerpiece of a meal. The flavor of the poblano chile is even better if you char-roast it before adding it in. Canned hominy is fine but if you can cook your own from the dry corn, the flavor is much better.

A good source for dry hominy that cooks more quickly than traditional hominy is Rancho Gordo, which is available at local grocery stores like Oliver’s and ranchogordo.com.

Poblano, Tomatillo and Shrimp Chowder with Hominy

Makes 8 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium white onions, halved and sliced thinly lengthwise

2 large stemmed and seeded fresh poblano chiles, cut into large dice

1 tablespoon finely slivered garlic

½ teaspoon each whole fennel, cumin and coriander seeds

2 teaspoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican)

2 cups husked and quartered fresh tomatillos

2 cups diced and seeded tomatoes (drained if using canned)

7 cups rich chicken, corn or vegetable stock

- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup fresh lime juice

12 ounces medium (21–24) peeled and deveined raw shrimp

¾ cup cooked and drained white hominy

¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

- Lime wedges

Garnish

- Thinly sliced and fanned avocado and cilantro sprigs, if desired

In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, heat the olive oil over moderately high heat. Add the onions, poblanos, garlic, fennel seeds, cumin seeds and coriander seeds. Sauté until onions are soft but not brown, about ?5 minutes. Add the tomatillos, oregano, tomatoes and stock. Simmer gently for 6 to 8 minutes. Season to your taste with salt, pepper and drops of lime juice.

To serve: Stir in the shrimp, hominy, cilantro and cinnamon and simmer for 2 minutes to just cook the shrimp through (they should be slightly translucent in the middle). Ladle into warm soup bowls and garnish with the avocado slices, cilantro sprigs and lime wedges.

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This takes a little time but it’s worth it. It freezes well, so make a double batch and freeze half to have on hand whenever you need a quick, hearty meal.

It starts with making a stock from smoked pork shanks. If you don’t want to make the stock, you could use chicken stock and add a ham bone while the soup cooks, then remove it before serving.

Black Bean Soup

Makes 6 to 8 servings

For the stock:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium white onion, chopped (about 2-½ cups)

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup peeled and chopped carrots

1 tablespoon peeled and chopped garlic

2 large bay leaves

1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed

3 quarts water

1½ pounds or so smoked pork shanks, cut into 2-inch sections (ask your butcher to do)

For the soup:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium white onions, chopped

4 large cloves garlic, chopped

3 medium poblano peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut into large dice

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon fennel seed

1 tablespoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican

1 quart smoked shank, chicken or vegetable stock or a combination

6 cups cooked black beans (from 1 pound dried)

8 ounces shucked and rinsed tomatillos cut in quarters

8-10 ounces picked smoked shank meat, chopped

2 cups (1 15-ounce can) petite diced canned tomatoes, preferably fire roasted

- Salt and freshly ground pepper

Garnishes (any or all!):

- Chopped green onions, including tops

- Cilantro sprigs

- Diced avocado

- Sliced radishes

- Thinly sliced fried corn tortillas

- Steamed rice

- Lime wedges

- Crema or sour cream

- Chopped jalapeño or serrano chiles

For the stock: Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, carrots, garlic, bay leaves and peppercorns and sauté until vegetables are softened and just beginning to brown. Add the water and smoked shanks (no salt at this point since shanks are salty). Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer partially covered until meat is very tender, about 2 hours. Remove shanks and set aside. When cool enough to handle, pick the meat and reserve. Discard bones and skin.

Strain cooking stock through a medium mesh strainer, discarding the solids. You should have about 4 cups of stock. Skim as much of the fat from the surface as you can.

For the soup: Heat the oil in a soup pot over moderately high heat and sauté the onions, garlic, poblanos, cumin, fennel seed and oregano until the onions are softened, about 6 minutes. Add stock, beans, tomatillos, picked meat and tomatoes and simmer for a few minutes more. Season to your taste with salt and pepper. Serve with garnishes to be added as desired.

John Ash is a Santa Rosa chef, teacher, James Beard award-winning cookbook author and radio host of the KSRO “Good Food Hour” airing at 11 a.m. Saturday. He can be reached through his website, chefjohnash.com

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