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Nov 8, 2011
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Wine With . . . Broccoli Cheddar Soup


by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas


A good hearty soup is often the mainstay of family suppers as the days grow shorter and the evenings chillier. Some soups seem serendipitously comforting--split pea, potato-leek, cream of tomato, and good, reliable chicken noodle, among others. We’ve just rediscovered an old American favorite, broccoli-cheddar soup. Neither of us had tasted it for years, but since this is the season when beautiful fresh broccoli is on display at the farmers’ market it occurred to us that the time had come to revive this tasty retro fare.


We wanted to keep it as simple as possible--no gussying up of ingredients, no fusion fussiness or molecular foam, just a straightforward preparation of readily available ingredients. What we also wanted, however, was something that hadn’t been associated with broccoli-cheddar soup in its heyday: a nice wine to go with it. Nothing all that fancy, mind you, just a tasty, compatible wine. We’re happy to report that we found more than one.


Broccoli Cheddar Soup


Serves 4

1 large or 2 medium heads broccoli

I medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 bay leaf

Fresh black pepper

1 teaspoon thyme

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 ½ cups milk

2 cups grated cheddar cheese

4 slices French or Italian bread


Cut the stems off the broccoli and peel off the tough skins. Coarsely chop the peeled stems and the broccoli heads. Place the chopped broccoli in a large pot along with the onion, garlic, and chicken (or vegetable) stock. Add the seasonings and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer uncovered, for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Puree the mixture in batches in a food processor, then return the mixture to the pot. (You instead could use an immersion blender to puree the ingredients right in the pot).


Melt the butter in a saucepan, and when it is foaming stir in the flour. Cook it, stirring constantly, for a minute or two, then whisk in the milk all at once. Stirring constantly, continue simmering over low heat for a few minutes or until the mixture has thickened, then whisk it into the soup. Reserve about ½ cup of the grated cheese, and stir the rest into the soup. Taste for seasoning.

To serve, divide the reserved cheese among the slices of bread. Place them in a broiler or toaster oven, and toast them until the cheese has just melted and started to bubble. Divide the soup among 4 serving bowls and top each with a slice of the cheesy bread.


* * *


Here’s a case where expectations didn’t match reality. When choosing wines to try with this soup, we guessed that whites would fare better than reds, so opened eight of the former and only three of the latter (along with one rosé). Well, we were wrong. So long as they weren’t too tannic, the reds proved to be every bit the equal of the whites. What made them good partners? Well, all the wines we liked with this filling soup showed substantial fruit flavor. Some of the whites proved too delicate, but the good reds had a hearty feel to them that complemented the dish. The biggest surprise was that neither of the oak-influenced Chardonnays we tried worked well. We had thought that their creamy, buttery texture would echo the cheesy soup, but they turned out to clash with it. So while our expectations disappointed us, the five wines recommended below, regardless of color, definitely delighted us.


Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Carmel Road, Monterey (California) Pinot Noir 2009

$20

This wine’s sweet cherry fruit never seemed candied when paired with the soup, as the earthy vegetable flavors kept it in check. Its smooth, silky texture was an added bonus. Drinking it felt as well as tasted extremely pleasurable.

Jean-Luc Colombo, Côtes du Rhône (France) Blanc “Les Abeilles” 2010

(Imported by Palm Bay International)

$12

With an earthy undertone, this fairly substantial white tastes autumnal, its fruit resembling apples and pears, and its finish echoing toasted nuts. That quality made it an especially attractive partner for this equally autumnal soup.

Domaine du Cros, Marcillac (France) 2010

(Imported by Wine Traditions Ltd.)

$12

An appellation in the hinterlands of southwestern France, near the city of Rodez, Marcillac produces red wines from the local Mansois grape, along with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. This particular example tastes both richly fruited and intriguingly earthy, even rustic, with an almost cheesy note in its bouquet. It made for a near-perfect match with our soup, and we kept coming back to it time and time again during the tasting.

Domaine Ste. Michelle, Columbia Valley (Washington) Brut NV

$11

As our readers probably know by now, we like to try sparkling wines with soups, as the textural contrast between the two liquids can be very satisfying. That definitely was the case with this match, one in which the soup seemed to give the wine added depth and heft on the palate.

Spice Route, Swartland (South Africa) Chenin Blanc 2009

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$18

Tasting of juicy, ripe pears, with a nutty echo in the finish, this white is clean and refreshing yet at the same time substantial. Its depth of flavor helped it pair nicely with the soup, as unlike some other whites we tied, it never seemed to get lost or diluted by the match.