For a few semesters of college, I got a job working at Panera a few days a week. It was a perfect college job. Never had to show up too early since I wasn’t actually baking anything and it also wasn’t too late since the cafe closed at 9PM. The best thing about working the closing shift in the bakery was the free food. We were free to make up a bag of bread and bakery goodies to take home with us (all the leftover bakery stuff was donated every night and there was always plenty). This was also the semester that I lived in my sorority house so I would come home and stick the bag of goodies outside my door. I think my popularity got kicked up a few notches those semesters. But the greatest thing about Panera, at least I thought so at the time, are the soups. Specifically, the broccoli cheese soup. Cheesy, comforting, almost always on the menu, perfect. Now that I make more and more of my own soups, I really dislike store bought because they are always flavorless except for the obscene amounts of salt.
Last weekend when I was menu planning for the week, I flipped through my reasonably new Gourmet Bible and found a recipe for a jazzed up broccoli cheese soup that reminded me of my Panera obsession, but a little more suited to my 25 year-old tastes. This recipe is the real deal for any broccoli cheese lovers out there. And perfect for a snowy day like today.
This recipe calls for mustard powder, which I didn’t have and almost bought a 9 dollar jar of at the grocery store. Don’t do that, buy it at The Spice House, like I did, instead. This soup also takes less than an hour to make, start to finish, so it is perfect for a weekday night.
1 small bunch of broccoli
1 large potato (I used two small baking potatoes)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon (I didn’t measure) freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated extra-sharp cheddar (approx. 6 oz)
Process the broccoli by cutting off the bottom third of the stems (if they are really thick and tough). Then finely chop the stems and cut the florets into 1 inch pieces.
Cook the florets in a large pot of boiling salted water for 2 to 3 mins. Quickly run the florets under cold water so they stop cooking. Reserve 3 cups of the cooking water.
Peel the potato and cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Melt the butter in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the potato, onion, bell pepper, broccoli stems and cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, until the onion is soft. Add cumin, mustard, salt and pepper and cook for another minute, stirring constantly. Add flour and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add reserved cooking water, stir and partially cover and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes until the potatoes are tender.
Add the cream, stir, then add the cheese and stir until the cheese is melted. Season with salt and pepper. Remove about 2 cups into a large bowl, and with an immersion blender, puree until smooth. Return to the pot. Add the broccoli florets, stir and cook until everything is warm.