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Last Minute Dinner: Broccoli Cheese Soup

My sister, a single mom of three and full-time teacher, is a good cook, but out of necessity an efficient one. During harvest time she bakes and freezes pies. When the kids are off with their dad, she assembles soups, stews and casseroles to freeze – one summer she made enough main dishes to keep them going from labour day straight through to the Christmas holiday. When she puts her mind to it, she is a machine. One of the kids’ favorite meals is broccoli and cheese soup – something she often pulls together quickly after school and work using bagged frozen broccoli, which softens easily and doesn’t mind being pureed. But it also freezes well, so it’s not uncommon to come across a tub of it in her freezer.

As with most soup measurements, the quantities here are approximate; don’t feel you have to stick to them. If you want to fancy it up a bit, add a big pinch of curry powder or fresh tarragon. The soup is great made with aged orange or white cheddar (try to avoid blocks of processed cheese, which are common in broccoli soups), or omit the cheddar and crumble in some blue cheese (you won’t need as much), reserving some to crumble over top. (A blue cheese version is, of course, more grown-up.) If you’re making it ahead to stash away for later, cool it completely before it goes into the freezer, then thaw it in the fridge during the day to reheat at dinnertime.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

For a vegetarian version, swap vegetable or onion stock for the chicken stock.

2 Tbsp. canola or olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tbsp. flour
2 lb. fresh broccoli, stems and florets separated and chopped into pieces
6-8 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
2 cups grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup half & half

In a large, heavy pot heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat. Saute the onion for about 5 minutes, until soft; add the garlic and cook for another minute, then add the flour and stir to coat everything well.

Add the broccoli and chicken stock and bring to a simmer; cook for about 20 minutes, or until broccoli is very tender. Using a hand-held immersion blender, puree the soup right in the pot (or transfer some of it to the blender or food processor to process until smooth), leaving some larger chunks if you like. Add the cheese and cream and heat through, stirring just until the cheese melts. Season with salt and pepper and serve, or cool completely and refrigerate for a few days or freeze for up to 4 months. Serves 6.

photo credit: istockphoto.com/iPixela

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