They call this a "blackberry winter" – these cool days that sometimes come in the month of May when the wild blackberries are in bloom.
Mornings often are misty, and it is late afternoon before the sunshine breaks through the gray skies. When evenings arrive, the air turns cool again.
May is a distracting month for cooks. As longer days unfold and the weather grows warmer and gentler, we begin to plan lighter meals. Then suddenly the weather turns chilly and misty, we pull out sweaters again, start up the wood fire and think how good a bowl of hot soup would taste.
Centuries ago Europeans boiled meat in rain water and dipped pieces of bread into the broth to soften them. They called it sop. We can do much better today.
And nothing is easier than soup. There’s a lot of leeway. It’s not like a soufflé to be measured and timed carefully and worried over for fear it will fall. Soup recipes are delightfully flexible.
CINDY’S CHUNKY MINESTRONE SOUP
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3/4 cup sliced carrots
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup small pasta shells
3-4 cups water
2 (14+ ounces) cans Italian stewed tomatoes
1 can Italian herb chicken broth
2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 can cannelini beans, undrained
1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 cup sliced mushrooms
bratwurst, sliced and browned
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook onion, carrots and garlic in hot oil in large pot over medium-high heat 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add shells and next six ingredients. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Add zucchini, beans and spinach, and cook five additional minutes.
Add bratwurst. Serve with a sprinkling of cheese on top.
GREEN CHILI CHICKEN SOUP
1/2 pound boned, skinned chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 teaspoon each garlic powder and dried oregano
2 cans cream of chicken soup
2 cups milk
2 cans chopped green chilies
2 corn tortillas, cut into 1/2-inch strips
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Coat chicken breasts evenly with garlic powder and oregano. Sauté in hot oil in pot over medium heat until no longer pink in the center, 5-7 minutes. Add cream of chicken soup, milk and green chilies. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Arrange tortilla strips in one layer on greased cookie sheet. Spray tops lightly with cooking spray and bake in 450-degree oven until lightly browned, about 4 minutes.
To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top with tortilla strips and shredded cheese.
– recipe from Dairy Council of California
1/4 pound mild Italian sausage
31/2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup polenta or yellow cornmeal
3 ounces thin-sliced fontina cheese
Remove sausage casings and discard. Crumble sausage into a large pot and cook over medium heat until well browned, about 20 minutes, stirring often. Discard drippings.
Add broth, polenta and 2 cups water to pot. Bring mixture to a boil and stir often until polenta is creamy to bite, 7-10 minutes. Ladle soup into 4 bowls; top with cheese and a scattering of basil.
– from my files
BEEF VEGETABLE SOUP
1 pound ground beef
1 (46-ounce) can V-8 juice
1 package (16-ounces) frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
2 cups frozen cubed hash brown potatoes, thawed
1 envelope onion soup mix
In skillet, cook the beef over medium heat until no longer pink; drain. Transfer to a slow cooker. Stir in the tomato juice, mixed vegetables, potatoes and soup mix. Cover and cook on low 8-9 hours or until heated through.
SPICY CHICKEN, TOMATO AND GARLIC SOUP
6 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
11/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
16 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cans (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
3 yellow or red bell peppers, cut into small squares
11/4 teaspoons cumin
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 cup rice
6 tablespoons minced cilantro
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon minced jalapeño
In large pot, combine broth and water; bring to a boil. Add chicken and garlic, reduce to a simmer; cover and cook until chicken is just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside. When cool enough to handle, cut into bite-size pieces.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the garlic to a food processor or blender along with 1/3 cup of the broth and puree until smooth.
Add the garlic puree to the pan along with the tomatoes, bell peppers, cumin, salt and cayenne. Bring to a boil, stir in the rice, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes.
Return the chicken to the pan along with the cilantro, lime juice and jalapeño, and cook just until heated through, about 1 minute.
– from my files
CHEESY ASPARAGUS SOUP
11/2 pounds fresh asparagus, trimmed
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 cans cream of asparagus soup, undiluted
1 soup can milk
1 jar sliced mushrooms, drained
11/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
In a large pot, cook asparagus and onion in a small amount of water until tender.
Drain liquid. Add all remaining ingredients; heat over medium until cheese is melted and soup is hot.
– from "A Taste of the Country," fifth edition
HINT OF THE WEEK
Keep liquid from cooking vegetables in the freezer until you have enough for your next soup. This is full of vitamins and does more for any soup than water does.