It doesn’t matter whether it’s a chunky bisque or a creamy vegetable or a broth so clear you can see the china pattern at the bottom of your bowl, soups are welcome on the family table. “Setting a pot of hearty soup to simmer on the stove makes me savor all the season’s pleasures that much more,” writes Western Mass. cookbook author Betty Rosbottom in “Sunday Soup.”
Soup is also famously medicinal, healing the spirits of those who are well, replenishing the strength of those with maladies, and warming everyone who feels a little chill as the seasons change. Ellen Brown, in “Soup of the Day,” points out soup’s central role in dining: “Street vendors in sixteenth-century Paris sold concentrated soups as a pick-me-up for physical exhaustion and they were referred to as ‘restaurants,’ meaning something that was restoring. In 1765 a shop specializing in such soups opened, and thus the word ‘restaurant’ entered our vocabulary. And soups have played a role on restaurant menus ever since.”
Yet soup on its own can sometimes feel like a lonely appetizer. Pair it with bread, though, and it’s a meal. And paired with the right bread, it’s the stuff of memories. For a vegetable soup like minestrone, it’s nice to have a soft, fragrant focaccia. Sourdoughs — crisp croutons or chewy fresh loaves — offer a welcome counterpoint to chunky, meaty soups. And shattery, crisp crackers or breadsticks complement those creamy bowls.
You may argue that you don’t have enough time to make both a soup that simmers all afternoon and a bread that takes hours to rise. But don’t make them both in a single day. After all, most soups taste better a day later, so you can eat yesterday’s soup with today’s bread. Or yesterday’s bread as croutons or toast with today’s pot. Or, better, buy the loaf.
Calvin Trillin, humorist and dedicated soup-o-phile, makes a habit of storing soup. As he remarks in his foreword to Lydie Marshall’s 2003 classic, “Soup of the Day”: “I normally have a quart of the Second Avenue Deli’s Mushroom and Barley soup in my freezer, just in case.”
But even if you haven’t had the foresight to set aside a frozen stash, chances are that there’s a bowl to be had from the odds and ends in your crisper: celery that should be used, some leftover cooked potato, a single leek. As we all learned long ago from the story “Stone Soup,” soup is the magic you make out of practically nothing.
T. Susan Chang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.