There’s a reason I didn’t name this recipe “Garlic-y Broccoli Cheddar Soup”. The obvious is that it doesn’t contain cheddar. I know that’s upsetting, but stick with me. While a certain mac and cheese recipe recently proved that you can, indeed, have a creamy cheese sauce (or soup) without a roux, there’s so much that can go wrong when you start throwing cups of shredded cheddar into a delicious pot of broccoli soup. First and foremost–clump city. If your cheese isn’t freshly grated by you at home, isn’t room temperature, or isn’t incorporated slowly enough to keep the temperature of the soup high so that the cheese melts in seamlessly, clump risk runs high. Very high. I think broccoli cheese soup should be less risky than that and bursting with flavors besides onion, broccoli, and cheese. Oh, and it should also be green, not some weird orangey yellow color, because–duh, broccoli is green!
You might have guessed, correctly, that garlic is one of those big flavors I called in for this version of broccoli cheese soup. Usually I double the quantity of garlic in any recipe, or add it if it’s absent, because Steve and I both adore the flavor and neither of us wants to have bad breath alone. How not fun for the other person. Via the Pioneer Woman, I recently discovered how to infuse a little oil quickly by frying some minced garlic in it first, then removing the garlic so it doesn’t burn. That’s the approach I took to start this soup off with a big base of garlic-ness.
Also invited to the party are leeks, parmesan, and goat cheese. I can’t sing the praises of leeks enough. There are some in this week’s dinner menu, which turned out amazing. My mouth is watering just thinking about the sweet, crispy, chewy deliciousness they became after roasting for almost two hours in olive oil, salt, and pepper (hello easy, cheap, super classy side dish). When “melted” down in the base of this soup, they bring that same, almost indescribable sweet complexity, playing very nicely with the garlic.
Goat cheese and parmesan were somewhat obvious cheese choices as I knew I wanted to leave out the cheddar (although, see the recipe notes about adding just a bit of white cheddar to make it a “three cheese” deal–because three is always better than two.). Parmesan, of course, adds saltiness and a nutty flavor, and it incorporates without chunks in grated form. If you have any parmesan rinds lying around, you could (and should) throw them into the pot as the vegetables boil, removing before taking a blender to it. Goat cheese, unlike universally embraced garlic, tends to be polarizing. If you’re not a big fan, let me defend it here as adding necessary acidity and playing a big role in the soup’s creaminess, without the usual punch-you-in-the-face tang. I don’t know of another cheese that would melt in as well as goat cheese without being stringy, unless you want to jump to a different category and test ricotta or mascarpone. If you try either (or another substitute of your choice), please let me know your method and result in the comments!
Besides clump risk, color inaccuracy, and a less-than-diverse flavor profile, another issue with traditional broccoli cheddar soup is clump city for your waistline. I know that’s a terrible visual, but I have to make the point. It’s comfort food season, and, if your appetite and cravings are like mine, you’re going to be downing lots of creamy, cheesy, [processed] carby dishes in the coming months. I apologize in advance for the onslaught of these exact dishes that may take over NCK. However, I think we all deserve a creamy soup that doesn’t require cream or a glutinous thickener. This broccoli cheese recipe incorporates a single potato (for 6 large servings) which boils along with the broccoli, then acts as a thickener when it’s blended into the soup, keeping the whole thing gluten free. If you can, find a Yukon gold potato for even more creaminess than a russet will bring. In this case, I would advise against substituting a sweet potato, because it will overtake and interact in strange ways with the broccoli taste. Sweet potato + broccoli = not usually besties.
And just for the record, the only thing to ever exist that’s clumpy in a good way is–PUGS. So clumpy and magical, right?
One last thing on storage–I had this leftover from the freezer for lunch today and I kind of want to say I liked it better than the first time. Perhaps that’s just due to my own critical eye (um, palate), but the reason I mention it is so you know the soup freezes quite well. So either feed your family of six, eat this all week for lunch, freeze for another two or three dinners, or halve the recipe to avoid repetition and waste.
- 2½ oz. grated parmesan cheese
- 5 oz. crumbled goat cheese
- Optional: 1 C grated white cheddar cheese
- ¼ C olive oil
- 8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (2 to 3 T)
- 2 large leeks, white and light green parts, cleaned and sliced thin (4 C)
- Kosher salt
- 1 medium Yukon Gold potato, cut into 1 inch chunks (3/4 lb.)
- 2 lbs. broccoli in large florets, stems discarded (3 large crowns)
- 2 C vegetable stock
- 4 C water (substituting more stock will affect the color)
- 2 large handfuls spinach leaves (about 4 C)
- Optional garnish: extra goat cheese, parmesan crisps, fresh herbs, pesto, olive oil, cracked black pepper
- Take cheese out of refrigerator to allow to come to room temperature as you cook (crumble/grate cheese when it’s still cold).
- Heat a large pot over medium high for a minute or two, then add olive oil and heat for another minute (if it starts to crackle or pop, turn the heat down a tad). Add garlic and stir frequently for a minute or two, until it just begins to brown. Reduce heat to low as you scoop out garlic, leaving as much oil in the pan as possible, because it’s now yummy and full of garlic flavor.
- Return heat to medium and add leeks and a pinch of salt. Saute for 10 to 12 minutes, until very soft. Add potato and another pinch of salt, and stir for a minute, to coat the potato and start to cook it a bit. Add broccoli, cooked garlic, ½ t salt, broth, and water. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The broccoli should be very tender and the potato easily pierced with a fork. Add spinach and cover again; cook until wilted, another 5 minutes. Turn off heat and blend in batches in a blender or carefully in the pot with an immersion blender.
- Return soup to pan over low heat. Stir or whisk in cheeses in two batches until melted and fully incorporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- To serve, garnish with any of the above suggestions, or some crumbled bacon.
If you don't have a kitchen scale, don't fret. The quantities of cheese don't need to be dead on. Just look at the total ounces in your package, and estimate based on that. For example, given a 12 oz. package of goat cheese, use a little less than half.