Broccoli cheese soup and I go way back. Like way the heck back, during my all-day paper writing marathons at the end of the semester, in college, and Panera was the only place that wouldn’t kick me out after a few hours type of back. It was my go to soup until I realized that just because it has the word “broccoli” in it, doesn’t make it healthy; even if it does come in soup form. In fact, this sweetheart of soups is traditionally laden with butter, cheese, and cream. I have seen some recipes for broccoli cheese soup that call for 2 sticks of butter and 2 cups of cream! As luxurious as it is, in all its fatty and creamy glory, it became a once every year type of meal after I started to pay attention to what I was eating. I missed it too much to say goodbye so I went on a mission to make a soup that was just as good as the original, but without so much of the fat.
I learned a few things along the way:
- you need SOME fat to keep the soup’s silky texture, so while you may not want to reach for the heavy whipping cream or half and half, you have to use at least 2% milk. Cut back on the butter, but you need SOME butter.
- pre-shredded cheese is no good; it is coated with anti-caking agents which prevents the cheese from melting properly. Seriously, it took me a whole five minutes to shred my own and it was well worth the effort. I have an irrational fear of graters and mandolins. I have nightmares about them, I kid you not. And if I’M able to grate cheese in spite of this fear, then it means something.
- Full fat cheese is the way to go. Reduced fat cheese doesn’t melt well and I always end up adding more because it ends up tasting “off”. Use full fat cheese and just cut back on how much you use.
- DO NOT use processed cheese; it isn’t real cheese. There I said it. It lacks flavor and texture of real, delicious cheese. Just do yourself a favor and spend the extra dollar and buy the real stuff.
- Milk will curdle and separate at high heat, especially milk with a lower fat content. Simmer the soup so it cooks evenly and stays together.
- Cornstarch slurry at the end of the cooking process helps bind everything together, if all else fails and your soup curdles. (Curdled soup is fine to eat, it just isn’t the most visually pleasing)
Let me tell you something else. My kids love broccoli and carrots because of broccoli cheddar soup. I never hear a single complaint when I tell them we’re having broccoli and cheese soup for dinner. In fact, my house takes a temporary reprieve from the constant screams, crashes, and various other loud noises and you can hear a pin drop while they fill their stomachs with broccoli cheese soup. The silence is occasionally interrupted with “May I have some more soup please?” The first time it happened, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. And I take advantage of this weakness of my children and load up the soup with tons of carrots and broccoli. Fresh broccoli and fresh carrots; it really doesn’t get any better than that. If I’m in a particularly good mood that day, I hollow out some mini sourdough rolls, and make mini bread bowls for them. My soon to be five year old giggled at the idea of eating her bowl as a part of her meal.
I used fresh broccoli because I had it on hand but frozen florets are fine too. I’ve tried it with chopped and frozen broccoli and the broccoli disintegrated into the milk, which was a big no-no for me. Some people like their broccoli cheese soup to be completely smooth. I am not of that group. I like to bite into pieces of broccoli and sweet carrots and see what I’m eating. I just tend to prefer chunky, hearty soups over thin, pureed ones. I just gently mash the broccoli and carrots with a potato masher, before adding the cheese in at the end. If you prefer to have a smooth soup, then go ahead and throw the cooked broccoli and carrots, along with the milk mixture it is cooked in, into the blender and puree until smooth. Return the soup to the pot, bring to a simmer, and add the grated cheese. Then, add the cornstarch slurry and bring it to a gentle boil, allow it to thicken a little bit and take it off the heat.
I suspect that the reason broccoli cheese soup fares so well at my house is because of the cheese. But I’m not one to question it. There is no question about it: cheese makes everything better. In fact, most parties that I throw have a cheese plate as a starter; it’s something people have come to expect. My munchkins share that love of cheese too and don’t shy away from even the stinkiest of cheeses, like roquefort.
In broccoli cheddar soup, I like to use the sharpest cheddar cheese I can find because the cheese is what really infuses the flavor into the soup. Broccoli has a pretty strong flavor to begin with so a mild cheddar cheese just gets lost. The best pairing for broccoli is extra sharp cheddar. I don’t know about most people but when broccoli cheese soup is a meal for me. I don’t even need bread. Yes, carb-lover me doesn’t even need bread or any other starch. I’m that serious about my love for this soup. I am now fully prepared for winter, a bowl of broccoli cheese soup in hand.
- 5 cups broccoli florets (fresh or frozen)
- 3 medium carrots, diced
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 cups 2% milk
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated*
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
- 1 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 3 tbsp cold water
- extra cheese for garnishing
- Heat butter in a large pot on medium low heat. Add onions and cook until onions are soft and translucent. Add carrots, salt, and nutmeg and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the carrots start to soften.
- Sprinkle in flour, one tablespoon at a time, stirring constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Cook for 1 minute, until flour is cooked. Slowly stream in milk and stock, stirring constantly. Bring to a simmer and add broccoli. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, until broccoli is cooked. Puree if desired or lightly mash with potato masher to break up large pieces of vegetables.
- Add pepper and take off heat. Stir in cheese, until the cheese is fully melted.
- Turn the heat back on again, on low and bring mixture to a simmer. Stir in cornstarch slurry and simmer until soup starts to thicken.**
- Serve hot with rolls and garnish with grated cheese if desired.
*grating the cheese from a block melts better than pre-shredded cheese
**soup will start to coat the back of a wooden spoon. If the soup gets too thick, thin out with 1/4 cup of water at a time, until it reaches desired consistency. If too thin, Dissolve 1 tsp cornstarch in 2 tsp of water add to soup and bring to a simmer.