The Great Soup Battle of 2010 (Pasta Fagioli, Cabbage Soup & Szechwan Carrot Soup)

January 28, 2010 | By | COMMENTS

judgesconcentrate

Hear those distant drums? A great battle is about to begin: the Great Soup Battle of 2010.

As readers may remember, last week I announced a big contest on my blog. Submit your favorite soup recipe–it didn’t have to be original, just a soup recipe that you love–and the best one would win a $450 VitaMix blender. Then 325 of you, that’s right 325 of you, submitted recipes. And little old me had to wade through them to pick the best. It was hard work, not for the faint of heart, but I wound up choosing the three most intriguing; recipes that, for whatever reason, grabbed my attention and made me hungry to try them. Then I invited my friends Diana Fithian (an enthusiastic home cook) and Leland Scruby (who works at the French Culinary Institute) over to help me make them. The three of us, plus Craig, would sample these soups and carefully choose the winner.

First, Leland, Diana and I had to choose which soups each of us were going to make. Here’s Leland and Diana surveying their options:

chooseasoup

Leland selected the first option, Italian Pasta and Bean Soup (Pasta E Fagioli) submitted by Allen Small. [Note: all recipes will be posted at the end.]

fagioliingredients

I chose that recipe for the top three because of the intriguing combination of pancetta (or slab bacon) and anchovies; plus the recipe tells you to put a Parmesan cheese rind in with the soup as it simmers. I just had to know what that would taste like.

Diana chose the second option, Veselka’s Cabbage Soup submitted by Youri.

cabbageingredients

This recipe fascinated me for many reasons, mostly the combination of simmered pork butt and sauerkraut. What would that taste like? Again, I just had to know.

Finally, I chose the Szechwan Carrot Soup submitted by Mira.

sezingredients

This was the simplest of the bunch, but no less exciting. You simmer carrots with ginger then blend them in a blender with peanut butter, soy sauce and sesame oil. Wouldn’t you want to know how that would turn out?

We immediately got to cooking:

gettingstarted

Here’s Leland’s work station. Notice how organized he is; organization is one of the most useful things he learned as a student at F.C.I., he told us.

lelandsstation

Into the pot went the bacon and the veg:

baconandveg

Meanwhile, Diana discovered that her first step would take two hours (oops!). She added cubed pork butt to the pot with chicken stock, marjoram, bay leaves and allspice:

veselkasimmers

As it simmered, the smell from the bay leaves were particularly intense; almost foresty in their pine-i-ness.

Meanwhile, I cut up my carrots and ginger:

cutupcarrots

And got them simmering with the stock:

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Here they are, the three soups going at once:

battlesoup

Leland’s was ready first. He removed the Parmesan rind:

parmesanrind

And served up four beautiful bowls of this:

pastafagioli2

Isn’t that gorgeous? In there you’ll see cannellini beans, orzo, parsley, tomatoes, and Parmesan cheese grated on top; plus the bacon and anchovies that provided the flavor base.

We all ate the soup thoughtfully, considering its merits (which were many: flavorful, hearty, fresh-tasting) and its flaws (which were few; in fact, I can’t think of one):

craigandleland

Then it was my turn up to bat. I took my softened carrots (it took longer to get them soft than the recipe said; though my heat was pretty low, so I raised it a smidge ’til I could smush them against the side with a spoon):

softenedcarrots

And poured the whole mix into a blender. To that I added the soy sauce, the peanut butter (just 1 1/2 Tbs), sesame oil and one cup of milk:

soupinablender

Here I am blending. Wheeeeeeeee!

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And this, the finished soup:

sezhuansoup

In terms of presentation, there was a nice sheen to it; though, if I had to do it again, I’d top it with chopped peanuts and cilantro (for texture and a nice herbal note) plus, maybe, a squeeze of lime.

We all sampled the soup:

dianareacts

Look how delighted Diana is by it; there was definite heat from the ginger and also another hot ingredient, red chile flakes. The peanut butter made it creamy, the soy sauce salty; it was nicely balanced.

Finally, it was Diana’s turn to serve. Here’s her soup after she added the sauerkraut and the cabbage and the potato:

soupsimmers

And, at last, her finished bowl:

veselkasoup2

You’ve gotta admit, you want to eat that. And the taste? The taste was insane. Vinegary from the sauerkraut and meaty from the pork butt; we all ate this with excited looks on our faces.

But which was the best? Would we each choose the soup we ourselves made? How would we not succumb to peer pressure or sheer self-interest? There was only one answer: secret ballot.

craigvotes

secretballots

And, finally, the results:

thevotes

Can you read those? Probably not. But here’s the exciting thing: every person’s soup was voted #1 on someone’s ballot. But only one soup got two #1 votes and guess whose soup that was?

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That’s right, the soup Diana made–Veselka’s Cabbage Soup submitted by Youri–was the BIG winner.

Indeed, I personally voted that soup #1 because of the magical and unexpected combination of flavors. It’s a soup unlike any soup I’ve had before; complex and tart and rich. Diana confessed that she added a little butter at the end to make it a little less wholesome and some might call that “cheating” but, even if that’s cheating, the bowl of soup she made was my favorite, with the fagioli a close second (the presentation of the fagioli takes top marks), and the Szechwan (which was definitely the most zippy) a close third.

Thanks to everyone who submitted a recipe, this was lots of fun. And congratulations to Youri: I’ll be e-mailing you shortly and you have a $450 VitaMix blender in your future. Nice work! And now, the recipes.

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3rd Place: Szechwan Carrot Soup

submitted by Mira

This Szechwan Carrot soup is based on an epicurious recipe and it is killer – smooth, rich, unexpected and easy.

* 1 onion, chopped

* 1 celery rib, chopped

* 1 garlic clove, minced

* 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

* 1 pound carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces

* a 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thin

* 1/4-1/2 teaspoon hot chile flakes

* 3 cups chicken broth

* 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

* 1 1/2 tablespoons creamy peanut or almond butter

* 1 teaspoon sugar

* 1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil

* 1 cup milk

1. In a large heavy saucepan cook onion, celery, and garlic in oil over moderately low heat, stirring, until onion is softened.

2. Add carrots, ginger, chile flakes, and broth. Simmer, covered, until carrots are very tender, about 45 minutes.

3. Stir in remaining ingredients and purée mixture in batches. Return soup to pan and heat over low heat until hot, being careful not to let boil.

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2nd Place: Italian Pasta and Bean Soup (Pasta E Fagioli)

submitted by Allen Small

Makes about 4 quarts, serving 8 to 10.

I’m not a big soup person (I’m more a chowder or stew kinda person) but this is one of my favorites!

This soup does not hold well because the pasta absorbs the liquid, becomes mushy, and leaves the soup dry. The soup can, however, be made in two stages. Once the beans are simmered with the tomatoes, before the broth and water are added, the mixture can be cooled and refrigerated for up to 3 days. When ready to complete the soup, discard the Parmesan rind (otherwise it will become stringy), add the liquid, bring the soup to a boil, and proceed with the recipe.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

3 ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped fine

1 medium onion , chopped fine (about 1 cup)

1 medium rib celery , chopped fine (about 2/3 cup)

4 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 heaping tablespoon)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 anchovy fillets , minced to paste (about 1 teaspoon)

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with liquid

1 piece Parmesan cheese rind , about 5 inches by 2 inches

2 cans (15 ounces each) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Salt

8 ounces orzo or other small pasta (ditalini, tubetini, conchigliette)

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

Ground black pepper

2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)

Instructions

1. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add onion and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, and anchovies; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan. Add cheese rind and beans; bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer to blend flavors, 10 minutes. Add chicken broth, 2 1/2 cups water, and 1 teaspoon salt; increase heat to high and bring to boil. Add pasta and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (refer to package instructions to better estimate pasta cooking time).

2. Discard cheese rind. Off heat, stir in 3 tablespoons parsley; adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into individual bowls; drizzle each serving with olive oil and sprinkle with a portion of remaining parsley. Serve immediately, passing grated Parmesan separately.

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1st Place: Veselka’s Cabbage Soup

submitted by Youri

My favorite soup (and recipe) is from Veselka, a Ukranian restauarant in NYC! It is tangy, meaty, flavorful and better than any cabbage soup you could imagine- it’s all about the sauerkraut and pork butt! Yum!

Veselka’s Cabbage Soup

1 pound pork butt, cut into small cubes

1 1/2 quarts chicken stock

4 cups water

3 allspice berries

3 bay leaves

1 tablespoon dried marjoram

1 cup sauerkraut, plus around 4 tablespoons juice

1 large potato, peeled and diced

2 carrots, minced

3 stalks celery, minced

1 small onion, diced

2 cups fresh cabbage, shredded thin

(1) Place the pork in a medium stockpot with the chicken stock, water, allspice, bay leaves, and marjoram. Bring to a boil and then simmer on low heat for about 2 hours. Remove the pork and set aside on a plate to cool. Skim fat from stock, leaving a few “eyes” of fat for flavor. Add sauerkraut and simmer for 20 minutes. (2) Add potato and simmer for 5 minutes. (3) Add the carrots, celery, onion, and cabbage and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the pork and simmer for 10 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add sauerkraut juice. Serves 6 to 8.

Source: http://nymag.com/restaurants/recipes/inseason/52162/

Deb from Smitten Kitchen tried this soup also: http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/11/veselkas-cabbage-soup/

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Categories: Recipes, Soups

  • kalika

    The Carrot Szechwan Soup was amazing!! My new favorite soup.