Broccoli Cheese Soup
I’ve talked at length before about my aversion to vegetables growing up, but I had a special sort of aversion to broccoli. No matter how it was prepared, I refused to eat it. I would always finish whatever protein and starches were on my plate, but those lonely little stalks never had a chance with me. It seemed that I inherited the “vegetables are disgusting” gene from my dad, while my sister was a beneficiary of my mom’s plant-loving genes. My sister would gobble up her vegetables while I sat in protest, very astutely pointing out that my dad wasn’t eating them, therefore it wasn’t necessary for me to eat them either. My mom told me years later that she would plead with my dad privately to at least eat some of them so that I couldn’t argue my point, but he protested that he hated them too. Poor Mom, she was doomed with us. Finally, though, she found a way for me to eat broccoli. A last resort, and probably not approved of by nutritionists. She smothered my broccoli in melted cheese. Artificial, processed cheese. I think that it was Cheez Whiz. Maybe Velveeta, but I’m leaning towards Cheez Whiz. Turns out, I could stand those little green stalks when they were smothered with bright yellow liquid cheese.
No surprise, then, that I eventually became a big fan of the broccoli-cheese soup from Panera. Pieces of broccoli so small that I hardly notice them, in a creamy, cheesy soup? Pass me a bowl and the crusty bread, please.
I gave up on the condensed version of the this soup long ago in favor of take-out varieties from Panera, as well as the salad and soup bar at the local grocery chain (which makes really good soup, it turns out). Still, I wanted to have a recipe that I could make at home. The easy broccoli-cheese soup is made of a rich mixture of half-and-half, milk, and vegetable broth, with a subtle blend of seasonings that really lets the flavors of the broccoli and cheese come through. I like using mild cheddar cheese so that it doesn’t overpower the rest of the soup, but you can certainly use sharp if you prefer. Add a healthy dose of cracked black pepper on top, and I’m ready to dig in!
P.S. Writing that first paragraph about Cheez Whiz and Velveeta brought back all sorts of memories of grade school sleepovers. Watching movies like Clue, telling ghost stories, playing telephone, listening to cassette tapes on our Walkmans, and… loading Ritz crackers with sky-high mounds of Easy Cheese. If you were in grade school in the 80’s, please tell me you did this, too!
Easy Cream of Broccoli-Cheese Soup
An easy cream of broccoli-cheese soup loaded with bits of broccoli and cheddar cheese in a cream broth.
½ cup unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
2 cups half-and-half
4 heads broccoli, stems removed and discarded, and florets cut into bite-size pieces
Pinch of nutmeg
12 ounces mild cheddar cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)
Salt and pepper
2 cups vegetable broth
1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until they begin to soften. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and stir to combine, cooking for about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the milk and half-and-half.
2. Add the nutmeg, broccoli, a dash of salt, and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the broccoli is tender. Add the cheese a handful at a time, stirring to melt the cheese after each addition.
3. At this point I did a quick pass with my immersion blender on low to blend up the broccoli a bit, but still leave a good amount of texture. You could also choose to mash it with a potato masher to break up the broccoli a bit, or transfer to a blender in two batches and puree completely. Finally, whisk in the vegetable broth, and re-warm over low heat if needed, and serve.