Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How to Make Roasted Broccoli Parmesan Béchamel Soup

This comforting, earthy soup with its warming, full-bodied cayenne pepper/garlic-infused Béchamel sauce will lessen the gloom of shortened days and chase away autumnal chills.

When harvesting broccoli, I cut the stalks on the diagonal so rain can run off the remaining stalk to prevent rotting.  Smaller heads of broccoli will continue to form lower down on the stalk for a continued harvest.

After the broccoli was sowed and transplanted into a bed, I applied an organic, balanced fertiliser (NPK of 10-10-10) when the plants were about six inches high.  I could really see the difference in the size of the heads from last season.

Fertiliser is scratched into the soil around the plants with a cultivator

An important aspect of growing broccoli is checking routinely underneath leaves for egg deposits placed by white butterflies.  Three years ago, when I planted my first broccoli crop, I did not realise that the cloud of pretty, white butterflies hovering over the broccoli bed were carriers of eggs that would develop into devouring pests.  As with all crucifers, their growth can't be checked, that is, they need to be transplanted before they get cramped in their pots, get enough sunlight, to be fertilized, and to be watered or else they remain stunted.  Other veggies, like leeks, are more forgiving.

A clutch of yellow eggs

The main source of flowers in my autumn garden are these vivid, red chrysanthemums.

Dayo is spending more and more time indoors, but he still stays close to me.  When I am working in the kitchen, he hangs out in his box at one end of the long, food preparation table.

Is that butter for me?

OK, fine, be that way, I didn't really want any butter.

Are you sure that butter isn't for me?

Roasted Broccoli Parmesan Béchamel Soup
serves six
  • Broccoli, chopped, 4-5 heads, about 8 cups*
  • garlic, 3 fat cloves, lightly smashed, with skin mostly intact
  • Vegetable broth, preferably homemade2 cups*
  • Parmesan, a small rind
  • Potatoes, two medium
  • Olive Oil, extra virgin, several tbsps
  • Red pepper flakes, just a few
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Parmesan, grated, 1 cup*
  • Flour, white, 5 tbsps
  • Butter, 4 tbsps
  • milk, 1 1/2 cup* 
* American cup, 8 oz

Preheat oven at 350 degrees F.  Wash the broccoli well, and if home grown, hunt out little pests hidden in the florets.  Chop into large chunks.  The earthiness of this soup is accentuated by first oven roasting the broccoli.   This was my first time roasting broccoli.  I was encouraged to so by a friend who said roasting was the way to go when cooking cauliflower and broccoli.  She is so right.  I doubt I will ever boil broccoli again.

Place broccoli pieces on a shallow roasting pan and dribble the olive oil over them, mixing well while ensuring all the pieces are evenly coated.  Put into the oven and roast for about twenty minutes or until they are bright green and browned on their edges.  They do not need to be tender.

While they are roasting and filling up the kitchen with their robust fragrance, peel and chop the potatoes into small chunks and put them and the cheese rind along with the veggie broth into a pot.  Add the roasted broccoli when ready and cook until the veggies are very tender, about 15 minutes.  Remove the rind if desired--it can be cut into small pieces and eaten-- or it can be left in to be eventually blended.  I had forgotten to take mine out and was amazed that it became soft enough to get completely blended, imparting a wonderful depth of flavour.

Meanwhile make the Parmesan Béchamel infused with red pepper and garlic.  If this is your first time making this basic white sauce, be rest assured it is very doable.  I prefer using this sauce rather than just adding milk and cheese, because the binding of flour and butter ensures a stable mixture that will keep its integrity even when frozen or reheated, while the fat content of the Béchamel allows for the flavour of garlic and red pepper to be more fully absorbed than if it was just added to the soup pot. 

Béchamel sauce is a base for many dishes, so it is a good technique to master allowing many variations on a theme, like I have done with adding Parmesan, red pepper flakes, and garlic.   Have all the sauce ingredients prepared and near the stove:  butter, milk, flour, Parmesan, garlic, red pepper flakes.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a medium low flame and gradually stir in the flour to make a roux.

Let the roux cook for a minute or so until smooth and to get rid of the taste of raw flour.  Slowly add the milk, pepper flakes, and garlic, all the while stirring.  Cook for about ten minutes until thickened.  Remove the garlic cloves.  If sufficiently softened and made mellow by cooking, mashed garlic is delicious on crackers/toast/breadA wire whisk will beat out any lumps.

Gradually add the grated cheese.

Let it melt completely while stirring. 

Blend the broccoli right in the pot with an immersion mixer or transfer to a standing blender.   Alternatively, you could also use a potato masher or large fork, but the texture will not be as smooth.

In order to ensure a smooth combination, add some of the broccoli soup into the Béchamel ladle by ladle, stirring well after each addition.

The Béchamel gradually will become much less thick.

Add the thinned Béchamel back into the soup pot and stir until well mixed.

Being a substantial soup, it does stand on its own, but of course it can be served with a good bread or croutons and crumbled bacon.

Bon appétit!