Tuesday, February 5, 2008

February 5: Cheddar Soup

One small administrative note: Dan and I stopped at a small Italian restaurant in a strip mall in College Park tonight. It failed miserably in atmosphere and fell far short in service. However, it had by far the best pizza that I've tasted in years. I promise to review Mamma Lucia's in more detail later this week, but I am just really mezmerized by American Idol right now.

Great cheddar soup is silky, elegant enough for company, and rich. This is a great lunch with a loaf of good bakery bread and a big crunchy salad and some kind of a fruity-berry tart for dessert. The bad news: this isn't a soup that holds well. The good news: it's simple and delicious and also, it's ready in 20 minutes.

This is plenty of soup for at least four as a centerpiece. You might stretch it to six for a starter.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, minced (about 1 cup)
1 medium carrot, minced (about 1/3 cup)
1 small rib celery , minced (about 1/4 cup)
1 medium clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 bay leaf
pinch cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons dry sherry
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
Table salt and ground black pepper

1. Heat butter in large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat until foaming; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add carrot, celery, and garlic; cook until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add flour and cook, stirring to coat vegetables, until mixture begins to brown on bottom of pot, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in chicken broth and half-and-half and add bay leaf. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until vegetables soften, about 10 minutes.

2. Off heat, add cayenne and sherry; cool soup for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in cheese and thyme; season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

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