Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Looking for Spring in a Bowl of Soup

T.S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruellest month, a sure sign he was a depressive, according to my freshman English literature professor in her obligatory summary of “The Waste Land.” Eliot grew up in St. Louis and lived much of his life in England, which makes me think that his April is my February in Georgia, and this month is definitely cruel. Just when we see the early signs of spring - Bradford pear trees setting buds and the daffodils sending shoots above the mulch, the cold shuts everything down. I hate to complain - the snow last week was transformative and breathtaking, the fluffy Christmas card kind that settled on trees and tumbled to earth in a shower with each blast of wind.

trees in snow
Snow-covered trees by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

But in this Georgia girl’s heart lurks a Floridian’s tolerance for cold. It’s a sad state of affairs that I look forward to my senior years, dreaming of the days when I can be a snowbird, wintering in Sandestin. I will probably wear knee-hi’s with skirts and hang out with a geezer whose idea of fashion is white socks and black sandals, and I will never be late for the early bird special at Piccadilly Cafeteria. So be it, my toes and my nose will be warm. Blistered, even.

From Autumn through January, I put out the comfort food - hearty stews, homemade chicken and dumplings, day-long braises, sausages, potatoes, but in these remaining winter days, my mood embraces the promise of spring, even if the weatherman on Channel 2 doesn’t. Today, I will make Green Bean Soup with Lemon Butter and serve it with Cheddar crackers. This soup transitions well, from winter to spring and summer to fall. It uses fresh green beans, which can be found in markets year-round, and the Vidalia spring onions that are just starting to appear.

green bean soup
Green bean soup with lemon scallion butter by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Green Bean and Vidalia Spring Onion Soup with
Lemon Spring Onion Butter

Lemon Spring Onion Butter
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
One Vidalia spring onion, trimmed, sliced, (whites and a fair portion of the greens)
Fresh juice from half of one lemon
1 small garlic clove
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine first four ingredients in food processor and pulse until combined. Season to taste and set aside for serving.


2 Spring Vidalia onions

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 pound green beans, trimmed and broken into 2-inch lengths

3 cups vegetable broth

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Freshly ground pepper

Optional: any appropriate herbs that you may have kicking around - tarragon is especially nice. I can imagine that dill would be pleasant. You can never go wrong with chives. Just chop finely and garnish soup before serving.

Very optional: A dairy component such as cream or half-n-half, up to a ½ cup.

1. For the soup, melt butter in a saucepan and cook onion until translucent. Add the beans and cook for about 5 minutes. Add a ½ cup of broth or water to the beans, cover with a lid and let steam until the beans are tender, about 10 minutes. In a separate pan, heat the vegetable broth until very warm. Check on the beans after five minutes to ensure that they are at their brightest when you pull them off the heat. You want a spring green, not a camouflage green.

2. Puree the beans soup in a blender or food processor, taking all necessary precautions because you’re dealing with hot vegetable matter. Gradually add the warm vegetable broth. (I like a rustic puree, but if you're of the silky-smooth texture school, you may want to run the soup through a sieve.) Return pureed soup to the pan and add the cream, if you're using. The dairy is nice, but it mutes flavor and I like my soup intensely green.

3. Find your favorite soup plates and pour out a portion of the soup. Place a spoonful of the lemon butter in the middle of the soup. Makes about 2 reasonable servings.

This soup is a perfect lunch accompanied by homemade buttermilk biscuits with shavings of good quality ham. In summer, I'd go with a chicken salad sandwich on white bread, cut into triangles. Today, buttery Cheddar crackers are on order, just a wee little nibble to serve with this virtuous soup. Three ingredients - butter, Cheddar cheese and flour, plus a pinch of salt and cayenne, if you’re feeling spunky.

Cheddar crackers
Cheddar crackers by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Cheddar Cheese Crackers
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1. Preheat oven to 375. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse just until mixture comes together to form a dough. Remove work bowl from processor and, using whatever little hands are available, form walnut-sized balls and place them on a lightly greased baking sheet (the slick wrapper from the butter works especially well for this purpose). Bake at 375 for 15 minutes, or until set, but not really brown. Remove from oven and let cool. Don't let them cool too long on the baking sheet or they may stick. When cool, place in a paper-towel-lined airtight container.

Text and images copyright 2010, Lucy Mercer.

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