Reduced Fat "Cream Soup"

As Cathy noted in an earlier blog, she joined Weight Watchers this year and has been on a quest to find healthier recipes that still taste good. This is a mission much harder than it sounds since many remade recipes rely on fake ingredients and/or questionable techniques in their “makeover” attempts—with piss-poor results, I might add—so I thought I’d take a shot at helping my friend out.
The cold snap this week has turned my thoughts to soup, the quintessential cold-weather comfort food. In all honesty, I am not much of a soup fan myself, but I was raised by a woman who loves it—I truthfully believe my mother could eat soup every day of her life and never tire of it. (My “meh” attitude toward soup, incidentally, is just one more betrayal of my Italian heritage: I don’t like polenta either, a fact that caused countless Italian female relatives to shake their heads in patient disbelief while I was growing up.) My partner, Grillmaster D (whom I will introduce more in-depth in a later blog), also loves soup, so it is something I make often during the short cold-weather season here in Florida.
While it is fairly easy to cut calories or fat in broth-based soups with relatively little damage, it is the cream-based soups that cause the most trouble. Many makeover recipes resort to using reduced-fat or fat-free ingredient substitutions, which may remove fat and calories, but remove flavor as well. (And although I do understand the important need to cut back at times because of health reasons, please don’t EVER use fat-free ingredients in your cooking; they are an abomination and are an insult to good food everywhere.)
So, how does one cut fat and calories and keep flavor in a cream soup without cutting the cream? A trick I learned many years ago is to use a rice and onion soup base instead of a velouté (flour and butter roux) base. Rice and onions are slowly simmered with various stocks or broths and a small touch of butter, then puréed to make a smooth and creamy base much easier on both the waistline and the taste buds. A grateful thanks to the late and estimable Julia Child, who perfected this technique almost 30 years ago.
Miss Cathy? This one is for you, my friend.
Rice and Onion “Cream” Soup Base (makes about two quarts)
2 T. unsalted butter
1 cup sliced yellow onions
8 cups liquid (water, chicken broth, vegetable broth, fish stock or milk)
½ cup raw white rice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a large saucepan. Sauté the onions slowly in the butter until tender and translucent, about eight minutes (do not brown). Add four cups of the liquid and the rice; simmer until the rice is very tender, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly.
2. Purée the soup base in a blender or a food processor until very smooth. Return to saucepan; add the remaining four cups liquid and season to taste with salt and pepper. Reheat and finish as suggested below.
Cream of Zucchini Soup
One recipe Rice and Onion “Cream” Soup Base (above)
5 medium-sized zucchini, stem and bud ends trimmed, and grated (do not peel)
¼ cup heavy cream (optional)
1. Simmer three-quarters of the grated zucchini in the soup base for about five minutes during Step 1 above (before puréeing).
2. After puréeing the soup base, blend in the remaining grated zucchini and the optional cream with the additional four cups of liquid in Step 2; simmer a couple of minutes until the zucchini is tender. Serve.
Cream of Cauliflower Soup
One recipe Rice and Onion “Cream” Soup Base (above)
1 2-lb. head fresh cauliflower
¼ cup heavy cream (optional)
1. Core the cauliflower and cut out the central stem; peel. Cut off all the stems and cut into chunks. Chop the cauliflower heads roughly.
2. Set a steamer basket over 1/2” of simmering in a large saucepan. Steam the cauliflower, covered, for about four minutes or until barely tender. Remove the steamer basket and boil down the steaming liquid until just slightly less than one cup remains.
3. Purée the cauliflower with the steaming liquid. Pour the cauliflower purée into the Soup Base. Stir in the optional cream and simmer a couple of minutes until hot. Correct seasoning and serve.
Cream of Broccoli Soup
Follow the instructions for the Cream of Cauliflower Soup, above, substituting 1-1/2 lbs. of broccoli for the cauliflower.
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