I had wanted to see Ratatouille over the summer, but never had a chance, for one reason or another. Hawkins assured me that it would speak to me, and it seems he was right. The film discussed a small, yet likable rat with a love of food. Despite my phobia of rodents, I found Remy to be very likable, and wish I could cook like he does. The theme of the film was “Anyone can cook,” and I have to agree.
The broccoli cheddar soup tasted great, and is simple enough for absolutely anyone to cook. It prominently features an ingredient sure to gain approval from Remy and any other rodent- cheese, and plenty of my favorite vegetable, broccoli.
To start the soup, I changed my usual soup-starting mirepoix a bit. I didn’t want to take much away from the broccoli, so my first thought was to use celery seed instead of fresh celery, though the store seemed to be out when I went shopping. This mirepoix used one Julianne-cut carrot, scrubbed and peeled, about five finely sliced green onions and a sliced rib of celery. I opted for green onions instead of a yellow or red onion for the milder flavor. The choice of a stalk of celery took nothing away from the soup as I had planned it. In fact, I think it may have been a better choice than celery seed.
Once the vegetables are chopped, sauté them in a tablespoon and a half of butter in the five-quart pan until the carrots and celery begin to grow tender. seasoned them with just a bit of salt and pepper at that point. When finished, remove the mirepoix from the pot and reserve it.
Our next step for a good, thick soup is the roux. Place a quarter cup of butter into the pan the mirepoix was cooked in on medium heat. Allow the butter to melt and begin to sizzle before adding a quarter-cup of flour. Whisk the roux vigorously to work out lumps and cook until it is the color of vanilla ice cream. It should take about five minutes to cook to that point, but stir continuously to keep it from burning along the bottom.
When the roux seemed ready, I blended a pint of half-and-half to it, again stirring well. The half-and-half guarantees a creamy soup to enjoy. While shopping, I saw a new product called fat free half-and-half. Needless to say, I did not use it, and was really unsure how fat-free half-and-half differs from regular milk. Maybe a reader out there can tell me just what that was all about.
Once the half-and-half is blended with the roux, I thinned it out with two cups of chicken broth and re-introduced the mirepoix to the pot. For seasoning, I added a teaspoon of oregano, a tablespoon of parsley and salt and pepper to taste. I always believe that wine and cheese are natural friends, so I used two teaspoons of sherry in the pot. I thought more would have been overpowering. Any sort of dry white wine would do well in this soup. Creamy soups burn easily, so simmer the pot, while stirring about every five minutes for about 15 minutes total to blend everything well.
While the stock simmers, I went to work on the broccoli. Most broccoli available locally seems to be sold pre-packaged, so I am not sure exactly how much I used. I bought a total of three stems of broccoli and cut the flowers off each one. Trim the broccoli into a collection of small and large pieces and add it to the soup. In all, I probably used about four to five cups.
Cover the pot and allow the soup to simmer at the lowest possible setting for about 30 minutes. Remember to stir frequently as it cooks. The low heat should prevent scorching on the bottom of the soup, while the lid traps heat and cooks the broccoli. When the broccoli is tender and cooked to your satisfaction, add a quarter-teaspoon of nutmeg and stir it in well.
Remy’s favorite ingredient and mine is without a doubt, cheese. Though I would expect the gourmet rodent to use a fine French cheese, I found that some grated sharp cheddar cheese made for a fantastic soup. I added an eight-ounce bag of cheese to the soup and stirred it well, until the soup was again hot, and the cheese completely melted.
The soup can be garnished with some extra cheese, parsley or just a bit of sour cream, though the creaminess of the soup means little more should be needed. We ate our soup with buttery crackers, which went well with the flavor. It was enough to serve five of six.
Hawkins was a bit trepidatious about the time needed to cook the soup, though waiting for the arrival of a wrecker, had little time to dwell on his hunger. When he was done with his vigil, after a minor accident Friday, he started the movie, and we started our soup. Seeing Remy’s reaction to experimenting with combinations of flavors was a familiar experience for me, and the show warmed my heart as much as the soup. Remy might not have cooked broccoli cheddar soup at Gasteau’s Restaurant, but if he were in attendance at Hawkins’ that night, I’m sure the cheesy soup would have guaranteed a good time would have been had by all. Good eating.