A new line of soup mixes created by six noted area chefs benefits
a worthy local charity and provides a quick, hearty meal. If you’ve got
a little more time, make one of our writer’s own tasty recipes
by Peter Rose â€¢ photographs by Michael Nelson
How nice it is to come home from work on a cold, gray day and know a big pot of soup is waiting to be heated. Soups are winter’s comfort foods.
Now six Hudson Valley chefs have created an additional reason for you to have a warming bowl: it will serve a social purpose. Top Chefs Soup is a new initiative of Westhab Inc., a nonprofit corporation organized in 1981 that has grown to become Westchester County’s largest provider of housing and supportive services for the homeless and needy. It features a line of six wholesome, dried bean soup mixes, made from recipes created in the kitchens of six well-known area restaurants: Le ChÃ¢teau in South Salem; Sam’s of Gedney Way in White Plains; Xaviar’s at Piermont; the Willett House in Port Chester; Abigail Kirsch at Tappan Hill in Tarrytown; and Zuppa
Restaurant & Lounge in Yonkers.
The soup initiative is an employment and training program for the homeless population that is served by Westhab. “The goal for both the business and the people it employs is self-sustainability,” says Production Manager Katie Green, once a homeless person herself. Employees work for the company for three months; during this “internship,” they learn punctuality, teamwork, how to follow instructions, and the production process involved in the measuring, packaging, labeling, marketing, and selling of the soup mixes. As an added point of pride, each package is signed by the employee who prepared it. Choices include escarole and bean, five bean, white bean and roasted garlic, split pea, and “seriously thick” black bean. These are the kind of soups that taste best the day after they are prepared, so cook them one night while you are making dinner anyway and serve them the next day. Each package yields six to eight hearty servings.
Andre Molle, executive chef of Le ChÃ¢teau, did not hesitate a moment when he was asked to participate. “If it is helping people, why not?” was his response. His White Bean and Roasted Garlic Soup is a rich, memorable dish. The garlic is roasted in the oven while the beans are cooking (roasting mellows its flavor), then it is added at the end of the cooking time.
Peter Kelly, chef/owner of Xaviar’s (as well as of Freelance Cafe and Restaurant X & Bully Boy Bar), also was immediately amenable to doing his part. His Old Fashioned Split Pea Soup is served with fresh mint, which he says adds “a brightness and a surprise in the mouth of the diner.”
The mixes are available by calling Westhab at 914-345-2800. They are $5 per package, or $12 for a mix wrapped with a soup bowl or mug. They make excellent hostess gifts or additions to gift baskets.
So, are you hungry for soup right now? Let me offer some of my own favorite recipes. For these, I turn to my Dutch heritage. Winter in the Netherlands is usually damp and chilly, just the right circumstances for a bowl of soup. That’s probably why so many excellent varieties are on the menu at restaurants throughout the country. They are generally served in a wide-rimmed soup plate with bread and butter on the side. In some restaurants, a tureen is wheeled to the table and a generous helping is ladled out with some ceremony. On a visit last spring, we particularly enjoyed mustard soup, which varied from town to town because chefs use different local mustards. My version is made with Dijon mustard, readily available in the supermarket.
In old-fashioned households — like the one I grew up in — a Sunday meal was inconceivable without a first course of soup. In winter, my mother served mushroom soup, chicken soup, or occasionally a potato soup with white wine, a regional recipe from the southern province of Limburg. This soup would make a fine lunch as well. Just remember the old adage: “the better the wine, the better the dish.” Use some of your favorite white wine for the soup and drink the rest at dinner.
My recipe for Beer Soup with Spinach, Cheese, and Sausage comes from my book Foods of the Hudson (Overlook Press, 2000). With some good bread and butter and a dessert like carrot cake or pumpkin pie, it would make a delicious winter dinner. And it is a snap to fix: preparation and cooking time is only about 30 minutes.
You can vary the taste of the soup by using beers from different Hudson Valley microbreweries, such as Big Easy Blond from the Hyde Park Brewing Company in Dutchess County, or Ma Barker Pale Ale from the Big House Brew Pub in Albany. Both would work very well in the soup. If you prefer more readily available brands, use Molson Gold or Samuel Adams. Don’t be bashful; it’s fun to experiment.
I enjoy serving soup in a tureen, especially when it is the main meal. It gives dinner an aura of importance. Soup tureens came into fashion during the time of Louis XIV and were very much in vogue during the Victorian era. There are beautiful silver tureens with stands, and intricately decorated porcelain tureens with platters, but my favorites are the ones that resemble animals, such as a chicken, turkey, or rabbit. If you don’t have a tureen, yard sales, thrift shops, and consignment stores are great places to look for them. I once found a ceramic punch bowl decorated with scenes of German castles. I use it not only for punch, but for soup when I have a big party. (Glass punch bowls can be used in the summer for chilled soups.) Large ladles and old-fashioned soup plates with rims are other fun items to search for.