Southerners are known for their cookie swaps. But Kathy Gunn, owner of Midway Community Kitchen in Carrboro, N.C., thought why not a soup swap?
“In the wintertime, there is not as much to do, you might as well make soup and trade with friends,” Gunn says. Midway Community Kitchen, a cooking school, is offering the community this new practice starting this month. Participants can register online for $10 and bring four quarts of soup and get this bowl-of-comfort party started.
Gunn was inspired by her almost-name-twin, Kathy Gunst, the resident chef for WBUR’s award-winning radio show “Here and Now” and the author of several cookbooks including the newly released “Soup Swap: Comforting Recipes to Make and Share.” (Chronicle Books, 2016)
“It’s a pretty cool concept,” says Gunst, who started a soup swap with her neighbors and friends in Maine. “Six years later we are still doing it.”
From January to April, Gunst and her group meet once a month on Sunday to savor the flavor of these liquid fusions of comfort. “So many older people grew up on homemade soup but there’s an entire generation that don’t know what homemade soups are about,” she says.
Chef Lucindy Willis of Terrapin Cove in West Yanceyville, N.C., offers a few secrets to making good soups. Homemade broth is best. Keep it simple with seasonings; use thyme for chicken soups and winter stews, and oregano and basil for minestrone soups. To add a little heat, a pinch of red pepper flake does the job. Don’t use any ingredient that will overpower the other ingredients, such as too much rosemary or lots of garlic and onion in a cream soup.
“I warn my cooking students not to overuse the seasonings or use too many varieties of spices,” says Willis, who is teaching an upcoming soup class at Southern Season in Chapel Hill, N.C. “Each seasoning should be used to bring out the flavors of the broth and the ingredients.”
She often makes soups as gifts. “One Christmas I made four huge stock pots of soup and stored them in 2-cup plastic containers with secure lids,” she says. “I then presented friends and family with four different freezable soups for their winter lunch enjoyment. With this type of project, I focused on creating four very different types of soups: gumbo or chili, Italian wedding meatball, chicken tortilla, stuffed potato or another cream soup, such as broccoli. Soups that feed the soul.”
Willis loves the idea of a soup swap: “How lovely it is to open your freezer on a cold winter day and discover a soup that will go perfectly with that brie and cranberry panini.”
KATHY GUNST'S TIPS FOR A SOUP SWAP
– Share the story behind the soup. “Before we eat, we introduce our soups. Every bowl of soup has a story behind it.” Sometimes the soup is inspired by a family member, other times it may be influenced by the produce selections at the farmer’s market.
– Make enough soup for 10 full servings. That often means doubling a recipe.
– At the soup swap, start with a small sampling. Don’t eat a whole bowl. Taste each soup and then decide if you want a larger bowl.
– Find people who like to cook or want to become better cooks. Make sure the cooks are like-minded. For example, everyone likes meat. Or everyone is vegetarian.
– Take turns hosting. The host provides side dishes, or a salad, bread and desserts. Everybody else brings a pot of soup. Encourage folks to bring over a slow cooker for heating soups. You only need to heat the soup being served. The soup for taking home doesn’t need to be heated.
– Everybody needs to bring mason jars or containers for soups to take home. Use tea towels to cushion the containers you transport your soup in and the mason jars so they are not banging around during transport.
– Bring everything you need to serve the soup – all the ladles, garnishes, toppings and tools needed to complete the dish. Dedicate a big tote bag for carrying all the soup and supplies.
– Once you return home, label all the soups with the names and dates if you decide to freeze them for later use. Don’t fill containers to the top. Generally, cream soups don’t freeze well.
Pasta e fagioli
Italy’s traditional pasta and bean soup is simple and satisfying.
From “Soup Swap” by Kathy Gunst, (Chronicle Books, 2016).
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Freshly ground pepper
12 ounces boneless pork loin roast, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup dry white wine
1 small onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 medium celery stalks, diced
1/4 cup packed chopped fresh flat leaf parsley leaves, divided
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves, divided
6 cups chicken stock or broth
One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
3/4 cup small pasta (conchigliette, ditalini, tubetti or orzo work well)
4 cups cooked white cannellini beans or canned beans (drained, rinsed and re-drained)
Dash of hot-pepper sauce (optional)
Garnishes: pesto, Parmesan cheese, crusty bread
Spoon the flour into a shallow bowl or pie plate and season with salt and pepper. Lightly coat all sides of the pork with the seasoned flour.
Heat a large stockpot over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking, then add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Working in batches to avoid crowding the pan, cook the pork, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes per batch, until browned. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the browned pork to a bowl.
Add the wine to the pot, turn the heat to high and simmer, stirring with a wooden spoon to release any bits clinging to the bottom of the pot, for 2 minutes. Pour the wine mixture into the bowl with the cooked pork and set aside.
Turn the heat to low and add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Add the carrots, celery, 2 tablespoons parsley and 1 teaspoon rosemary; season with salt and pepper; and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and tomatoes, turn the heat to high, and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in the pasta, beans and browned pork with all its juices and cook, partially covered, for 10 to 12 minutes more. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. The soup is ready when the pork is tender and the pasta is just cooked through, still al dente. Just before serving, stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons parsley, 1 teaspoon rosemary and the hot-pepper sauce (if using).
Ladle the soup into mugs or bowls; top with a dollop of pesto, Parmesan cheese and serve with slices of crusty bread, if desired.