“Soups offer a taste of tradition and comfort during the harsh wintertime and warm our bodies from the inside out.”
BY: Amy S. White
Winter in Connecticut is a season of unparalleled beauty and cozy charm. As the state transforms from the breathtaking palette of autumn to a wonderland blanketed by white snow, people seek comfort from the biting cold. That comfort often comes in the form of food, dishes that warm from the inside out, like soup. Many of New England’s winter soups have a rich history that can be traced back to early settlers who needed nourishing, warming meals to survive the harsh winters they faced. Soup was an easy way to feed many people using inexpensive ingredients that were either readily available in their winter storage areas or were easily accessible even at this time of year.
New Englanders have a strong tradition of utilizing beans in their soup recipes, and winter is the perfect time to put them to good use. Take, for example, minestrone. With its robust blend of nutrient-rich vegetables and protein-packed beans, this humble soup showcases both the simplicity and power of wholesome ingredients. Chef de Cuisine Ruby Van Guilder, of Fire by Forge Restaurant in Hartford, adds Swiss chard and Savoy cabbage to her Winter Minestrone for extra stick-to-your-ribs heartiness. As with any good soup recipe, this one can be made with whatever vegetables are at hand. Make it vegetarian by leaving out the pancetta and using vegetable stock; forget the Parmigiano-Reggiano rind and garnish and you have a soup that is also dairy-free.
Another common tradition in New England is the root cellar. These subterranean storage spaces that were both cool and damp solved the problem of creating a reliable place to store food, particularly root vegetables, through the winter before the era of refrigeration. Root cellars still exist in many Connecticut homes; they stand as symbols of the resourcefulness of the area’s settlers as well as their agricultural heritage. This is why so many of the area’s soup recipes include potatoes. Garlicky Potato Soup is like a warm blanket on a chilly day: satisfying and comforting.
Finally, many traditional New England soup recipes arose to utilize the abundance of seafood caught along the famed Atlantic coastline. While clam chowder is the obvious choice here, why not try something new? Chef Lise Jaeger of Chef For Hire, LLC, a private chef and catering service based in Middletown, offers her own version of Bouillabaisse, one that is not too difficult to make but would surely impress guests during a special holiday dinner or other wintry celebration. Although this dish originally hails from France, its roots as a humble fisherman’s stew made with the catch of the day fits right in with these other time-honored favorites.
Winter soups, steeped in old customs and locally grown ingredients, are a reflection of this region’s history and the ingenuity of its residents. They offer a taste of tradition and comfort during the harsh wintertime and warm our bodies from the inside out. As the snow falls and the temperature drops, embrace the local flavors of New England and indulge in the cozy deliciousness of one of these soup recipes.
Garlicky Potato Soup
Recipe courtesy of Amy S. White
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 leek, trimmed and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 48-ounce package plus 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock, divided
2 whole garlic heads, top third cut off and loose outer skins removed
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
3 medium Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
6 medium red potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes
½ cup heavy cream
1½ teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
Melt the butter in a large heavy stock pot over medium heat. Add the chopped leek and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds, until fragrant, then add the chicken stock (except 1 cup), garlic heads, bay leaves and a teaspoon of salt. Partially cover the pot and simmer over medium heat for 40 minutes or until the garlic is very tender. Add the potatoes and another ½ teaspoon of salt, and continue to simmer partially covered, until potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Remove the garlic heads and squeeze the cloves into a separate bowl. Mash the garlic cloves with a fork to make a paste. Stir the garlic paste back into the soup and add the cream and thyme. Use an immersion blender to blend the soup until creamy. Add as much of the remaining cup of chicken stock to the desire consistency, season with additional salt and ground black pepper, to taste.
Recipe Courtesy of
Chef Lise Jaeger of Chef for Hire, LLC, Middletown
Extra virgin olive oil as needed
4 to 8 thick slices crusty bread like baguette
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 leek, trimmed and chopped
2 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped
2 medium yellow or white potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 small bulb fennel, trimmed and chopped
½ teaspoon saffron
¼ white wine
4 cups fish stock, clam juice, shrimp stock, or water
2 cups chopped tomatoes, with juice
Salt and pepper
¼ cup of fresh orange juice and the peel of ½ an orange
1 to 2 pounds chopped boneless fish such as cod, sea bass, monkfish, striped bass, squid
8 littleneck clams
6 sea scallops
2 tablespoons Pernod, Pastis or other anise-flavored liquor (optional)
Chopped fennel fronds, basil or parsley, for garnish
Rouille, see note below (optional)
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Brush bread liberally with olive oil and bake on a baking sheet, turning once, until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Set aside. In a large heavy stock pot over medium high heat, place enough olive oil to liberally coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil is warmed, place onion, garlic, celery, leeks, potato and fennel; cook until onion is translucent. In a small cup, place the saffron in the wine to “bloom.” After 3 or 4 minutes, add the wine and saffron to the vegetables. Add stock and tomatoes, orange juice, and peel. Bring to a moderate boil; cook until thick and stew-like rather than soupy. Season to taste. Lower heat to a simmer. As you add the fish, adjust the heat so that the liquid continues to bubble gently. Add fish in order of how long they will take to cook. Monkfish, striped bass and squid are fish that might require more than a few minutes, so add them first. About 5 minutes later, add clams and mussels, holding back any fish that has been cooked or will cook in a flash, such as shrimp and scallops. When mollusks open, add remaining fish. Add the liquor if you’re using it and adjust seasoning to taste. Remove the orange peel from the pot. Ladle hot soup in bowls, distributing fish, clams and mussels evenly. Serve with toasted bread crouton topped with rouille sauce. Garnish with fennel fronds, parsley or fresh basil.
To make rouille, add ½ cup finely minced roasted, peeled and seeded red bell pepper; 2 cloves finely minced garlic; and a dash of cayenne (to taste) to either homemade or store-bought mayonnaise. This is meant to be a spicy accompaniment so don’t be afraid to bring on a bit of the heat.
Recipe Courtesy of Chef Ruby Van Guilder of Fire by Forge Restaurant, Hartford
1 pound sliced pancetta, chopped
3 medium red onions, chopped
4 celery ribs, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 cup olive oil
1 bunch Swiss chard
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in juice
3 quarts chicken stock (substitute vegetable stock to make it vegetarian)
5 cups coarsely chopped Savoy cabbage
1 piece (about 3 by 1½ inches) Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (optional)
1 19-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 pound ditalini pasta, cooked according to package directions
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving (optional)
Cook the pancetta, onions, celery and carrots in the oil in a large heavy stock pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, prepare the chard by cutting the stems from it and chopping the stems while reserving the leaves. Stir the chard stems into the pancetta mixture along with the garlic, a teaspoon of salt and ¾ teaspoon black pepper; continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender and begin to stick to the bottom of the pot. Push vegetables to one side of the pot and add the tomato paste to the cleared area. Cook, stirring constantly, until the paste starts to caramelize, about two minutes, then stir the tomato paste and the vegetables together and cook, stirring, another 2 minutes or so. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice, breaking them up with the spoon. Add the stock, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Bring to a simmer. Stir in the cabbage and add the cheese rind. Cover and simmer until the cabbage is tender, about 40 minutes. Coarsely chop the reserved chard leaves and stir into the soup along with the beans. Simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes. Discard the rind and season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve with cooked pasta and a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.