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A BOWL OF SOUL: COMBINE FLAVORFUL TIDBITS WITH HIGH QUALITY FOR TRULY FINE SOUP FROM SCRATCH.

Lately, I've been judging, testing and thinking about soup, mentally simmering a stockpot of ideas.

Here's the overflow:- What ever happened to Soupy Sales? (Devoured by his naughty pooch, White Fang?)

- Why do movies depict New York apartment building "Soups" as bulbous-nosed, potbellied, torn T-shirt-wearers?

- Hormel has just announced their newest "Souped-up" NASCAR entry - the #9 SPAM car.

- Recently overheard in a local restaurant, "I'd like a bowl of your Doo-jer soup."

Obviously, the topic du jour is soup.

What a warming topic, especially with the surprising spring snowflakes that have pounded our little petunias.

Soup was spotlighted at the recent "Celebration of Art and Soup" benefit sponsored by the Community Nursing Services.

A select group of local artists and chefs, in an effort to raise funds for home health care in Utah, met in the Salt Palace to show off their efforts.

And after judging a cook-off of over 15 different soups, we found a winner - Duck Rigatoni Zupa from the Firenze Restaurant, a specialized Italian restaurant/coffee house located at 358 S. West Temple.

The select soup, masterpiece of Firenze Chef Eric Wood, was so intensely rich, I could hardly wait to get the recipe.

However, after obtaining the ingredient list and cooking instructions, I came to the conclusion that Duck Rigatoni Zupa is one of those tres-complique culinary creations that most of us less-than-Julia-Childish cooks shouldn't even attempt to replicate.

What do you think . . . you take your basic whole duck, cook, pull meat off the carcass and julienne the meat; dice thick slices of pancetta (Italian bacon), add to 1 gallon chicken stock, 1 gallon veal stock . . . got the picture?

Take my word for it, a visit to Chef Eric Wood's Firenze kitchen would be a lesson in what a truly fine from-scratch soup should be.

Here are a few ways to "soup up" your own homemade concoctions:

- If you have the time, make soups a day ahead and refrigerate overnight. Chilling soups before serving also allows any fat to rise to the surface and harden, making is easy to lift off before the soup is reheated.

- Keep canned broth in the fridge so the fat will congeal and be easy to lift off the surface before using.

- Add flavor to vegetable soups by substituting a vegetable juice like V-8 for a third to half of the water in the recipe.

- Roasted soup bones (baked at 400 degrees until brown) add a rich flavor to soups.

- For maximum flavor, put soup bones in the soup liquid (water, stock, etc.) before you begin heating it.

- Save and freeze leftover pan juices to enrich soups.

- Some herbs, like basil, lose much of their flavor and aroma when cooked for more than about 15 minutes. Always taste the soup at the end of the cooking time, and, if necessary, stir in 1 or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs before serving.

- Thicken vegetables and other soups with a veggie puree. Simply cook more vegetables than you'll need, remove them from the soup with a slotted spoon, and puree them in a blend or processor with a little liquid. Stir the puree back into the soup. It's a low-calorie, high-nutrition way to thicken soup.

- For another quick thickener, stir 2 to 3 tablespoons liquid (water, milk, broth, etc.) into 1/4 cup cornstarch in a small bowl. Stirring constantly, gradually add the cornstarch mixture to the hot soup a little at a time until the desired thickness is reached.

- Don't compromise on quality. Lackluster ingredients will end up as a lackluster soup.

Finally, Chef Keith Hunter, of Cafe Creole (located in the ZCMI Food Court) taught us a lot about refined New Orleans Creole and South Louisiana Cajun cuisine.

Along with Cafe Creole's owner, Richard Rougeau, Hunter is happily educating Salt Lakers to the Mardi Gras of flavors found in authentic Cajun and Creole food.

His forte is soups and sauces. Fortunately for us, Hunter was among the soup artists we sampled at the Art & Soup Celebration.

If you've never tasted Cajun, prepare yourself for a spicy delight. We've included Cafe Creole's recipe for Chicken File (Fee-lay) Gumbo. If you haven't attempted Creole cooking, this is the perfect introduction to the spicy world of etouffees, andouilles and blackened meats.

You'll need to obtain some file powder. The greenish spice is an essential ingredient in Creole cookin'.(It's dried, ground sassafras powder). The odd ingredient thickens and gives a distinct woodsy flavor to a pot of "hot." A file powder blend can be purchased locally at Spoons 'N Spice, 4700 S. 9th East.

So put on a kettle of soup, keeping in mind the words of Auguste Escoffier, who mumbled a long time ago . . .

"Of all the items on the menu, soup is that which exacts the most delicate perfection and the strictest attention."

Soups' soothing . . . comforting . . . and a sure-fire adventure into a stockpot of various regional cuisines.

We've discovered a new meaning for File of Soul.

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Creole by mail

Mail-order sources for creole ingredients:

Tony Chachere's Cajun Country Cookbook

P.O. Box 1687

Opelousas, LA 70570

1-800-551-9066

Zatarain's

New Orleans, LA 70114

McIlhenny Company

Avery Island, LA 70513

1-800-634-9599

Community Coffee Company

P.O. Box 791

Baton Rouge, LA 70821

1-800-468-2488

*****

You'll `roux' the day you make soup

A "roux" is a smooth blend of melted butter and flour used in thickening sauces. When the butter and flour are not browned, the roux is called roux blanc (white roux); when the roux is worked over low heat until pale tan it is a roux blond; and when it is browned still further, it becomes a roux brun. It is the soul of Cajun and Creole cooking.

Cafe Creole's Roux Recipe is:

2 cups salad oil, 21/2 cups all-purpose flour. Combine and cook on medium heat until peanut butter-colored and smells burned. Will keep on shelf for 2 weeks.

*****

RECIPES

CHICKEN FILE GUMBO

4 quarts chicken broth or stock

1 cup roux (see sidebar)

2 cups diced celery

2 cups diced onion

2 cups diced red pepper

2 cups green pepper

1 cup chopped parsley

4 cups diced cooked chicken

2 tablespoons crushed garlic

2 tablespoons Gumbo File

1 teaspoon crushed red chilies

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Bring all ingredients to a boil, cook 20 minutes. Add 1 cup roux and simmer 20 minutes. Serve over hot cooked rice. Serves 16.

- Each serving contains 377 calories, 7g fat, 59g carb, 1119mg sodium, 1mg cholesterol.

- From Chef Keith Hunter, Cafe Creole

CREME DE ASPARAGUS ET CRAB A LA HILTON

1/4 pound butter

21/2 quarts rich chicken stock

2 minced garlic cloves (approx. 1 tablespoon)

1/4 cup diced shallots

1 1/2 cups sherry (optional)

3 pounds fresh asparagus tips (cut into 1/2-inch pieces)

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

1 teaspoon dill weed

1/2 teaspoon tarragon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 cup diced red bell peppers

2 cups fresh Alaskan king crab

1 quart heavy cream

3/4 cup pale roux

Optional garnish: Fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Herb garlic croutons

Fresh dill sprig

Lightly saute garlic and shallots in butter. Add chicken stock and sherry (if desired). Bring to a boil and then add 2 pounds asparagus tips. Simmer until tender. Mix in a blender until smooth. Put back into pan and add seasonings and herbs. Let simmer for about 10 minutes. Add heavy cream and bring back to temperature. Add roux and let thicken. Stir in Parmesan, sweet red peppers, king crab meat and remaining asparagus tips and bring to temperature. Garnish with Parmesan cheese, croutons and fresh dill sprig. Serves 16.

- Each serving contains 386 calories, 30g fat, 17g carb, 1275mg sodium, 109mg cholesterol.

- From Executive Chef Dan Fisher and Assistant Executive Chef Dan Morrow, The Salt Lake Hilton

WHITE BEAN SOUP

4 ounces pure olive oil

3 stalks celery

6 onions

8 cloves garlic

6 shallots

1 leek

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

1 cup diced prosciutto (or ham)

1 tablespoon white pepper

3 cups dried white Navy beans (cannellini, if available)

2 cups white wine (optional)

1 1/4 gallons water, or chicken stock, if desired

Salt and pepper to taste

Garnishes:

Parmesan cheese

Basil-infused olive oil

Soak dried beans for 1 hour in cold water, set aside. Finely mince the celery, onions, garlic, shallots and leek. Saute in olive oil for 10 minutes. Add sage, rosemary, white pepper and prosciutto. Saute for 5 minutes longer. Drain white beans. In a large kettle, combine beans with sauteed ingredients. Saute for 5 minutes. Add white wine, if desired, cooking and reducing liquid by half. Add 11/4 gallons water or chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 hours. Take 1/3 of mixture and puree in food processor. Add puree back to mixture to increase thickness of soup. Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with Parmesan and basil oil. Serves 10.

- Each serving contains 302 calories, 13g fat, 32g carb, 216mg sodium, 7mg cholesterol.

- From Chef Mike Crossland, Baci Trattoria

PROVENCAL CHICK-PEA SOUP

1/2 pound soaked chick peas

2 quarts cold water

Salt to taste

1 onion, sliced

2 leeks, white parts only, sliced

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large tomato, chopped

1 2-inch strip of orange zest, cut into julienne strips

1 teaspoon freshly ground fennel seeds

Fresh cracked pepper to taste

Garnish:

6 slices country-style bread, lightly toasted

Put peas in kettle and add the cold water. Bring to boil, cover and simmer until peas are tender and skins loose. Remove the skins and discard. (Don't throw away cooking liquid). Puree about half of the peas with a little of the cooking liquid in a food processor. Return to soup (the remaining liquid and peas) and stir well. Cover and keep warm. In a skillet, saute the onion and leeks in the oil until soft. Add the tomato, orange zest and fennel and cook just long enough to thicken sauce a little. Turn it into the soup kettle with the peas. Salt and pepper to taste. Simmer soup then serve over toasted bread. Serves 6 to 8.

- Each serving contains 183 calories, 8g fat, 23g carb, 221mg sodium, 2mg cholesterol.

- From Chef James Martin, Hungry I

CHICKEN FLORENTINE SOUP

8 cups water

1 stalk chopped celery

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cups carrots, chopped

1/8 cup chicken bouillon

1 teaspoon sweet basil

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon rosemary

1/4 teaspoon ground celery seed

1/4 pound butter

1/4 cup minced parsley

1 pound cooked chicken breast, deboned and cut into bite-size pieces

1 package frozen chopped spinach

1 quart heavy cream

2 ounces cornstarch

1 cup cold water

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large stockpot, combine the water, celery, onion, carrots, chicken bouillon, sweet basil, garlic, black pepper, rosemary, celery seed and butter, and bring to a boil. Then add parsley, chicken, chopped spinach and heavy cream. Simmer for 20 minutes. Mix 2 ounces cornstarch with 1 cup cold water and add to the soup for a thickener. After soup has thickened, add 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 8.

- Each serving contains 551 calories, 49g fat, 15g carb, 575mg sodium, 157mg cholesterol.

- From Shenanigans Restaurant

PUMPKIN SOUP WITH CHEDDAR & PARMESAN

8 bacon slices, chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, chopped

2 medium carrots, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

8 cups (or more) chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth

2 16-ounce cans solid pack pumpkin

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

1 cup half & half

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Garnish:

1 cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese (3 ounces)

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (3 ounces)

Saute bacon in heavy large dutch oven over medium heat until brown, about 8 minutes. Drain. Add oil to same pan and heat to medium heat. Add onion, carrots and celery. Saute until vegetables begin to soften, about 15 minutes. Stir in 8 cups stock, pumpkin and thyme. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Puree batches of soup in blender or food processor, return to dutch oven. Mix in half & half and nutmeg. Stir in additional stock if too thick. Season with salt and pepper. Add cheddar and Parmesan to each bowl before serving. (Make soup a day in advance for best flavor). Serves 8 to 10.

- Each serving contains 324 calories, 19g fat, 22g carb, 1115mg sodium, 38mg cholesterol.

- From Chef Franz Kubak, The Red Lion Hotel