Cream soups are the perfect starter for a holiday dinner.
Rich, decadent and velvety smooth, they make an opening statement that a truly sumptuous meal is to follow.
But the bonus is that cream soups are simple to make and can be relatively inexpensive, depending on the vegetable used.
“This is the time of year when the cold sets in, when you want something warm, comforting and filling, with a little more substance to it,” said chef Mark Kent, who teaches cooking at the University of Akron.
Kent said cream soups are easy to prepare: Simmer a vegetable in stock until tender, purée, strain to remove any fibrous bits, and add cream and seasonings.
Some recipes use a thickening roux instead of cream, or a thickener like flour and cream. Other recipes use puréed rice or potatoes instead of cream to lower the fat, or substitute half-and-half instead of heavy cream.
The basic preparation technique remains pretty much the same, despite the nuances of any particular recipe. Some recipes call for aromatics like celery, carrots and onions to be sautéed first, then simmered along with the vegetable, to increase the flavor of the soup.
Kent also noted that some vegetables, such as butternut squash, taste better when roasted first to bring out their sweetness and richness.
“It really adds an intense flavor and takes it to another level,” he said.
Some hard vegetables like winter squash or carrots are substantial enough when cooked to make a thick soup without adding cream.
However, cream soups, particularly when they are starting the meal, are intended to be served in small portions of one cup or less, so that also helps to keep the calories in check.
Kent cautioned that when making a cream soup, it is important to not add cold cream into hot purée, as it may curdle. Cool the purée first, or warm the cream and add it just before serving.
Traditionally, cream soups are seasoned with salt and white pepper — never black pepper — so the color of the soup is not marred by flecks of black, Kent said. But some recipes ignore this rule.
Here’s an easy cream soup recipe that would be a good starter for any meal. Or, if accompanied by a salad and bread, a meal itself.
For more soup recipes, go to startribune.com/taste.