Monday, August 23, 2010

Cream of Poblano Soup... A Perfect Late-Summer Starter

I love all that summer has to offer. Each and every year I eagerly anticipate its arrival, joyfully settle into its long sun-kissed days, and hold it tight as it slowly tumbles into fall. And yet, I still crave a good, warm soup.

It's no secret that I am a soup-kind-of-girl.

In the cooler months, my soup pot works on overtime simmering great, hearty soups filled to the brim with lots of chunky, fresh ingredients... I can already hear them calling my name. And yet, loyal to the fleeting nature of our short-lived summers, I make a concerted effort to silence their pull for there is much to love about a great summer soup!

Summer soups, in my opinion, work beautifully if they headline a garden-fresh flavor -- whether its tomatoes or zucchini, carrots or corn -- it's all about letting that one veggie shine. And, surprisingly, most of these headliners perform equally well served up cold or warm.

This particular soup features the poblano chili, a fairly modest pepper that is at its best in summer; a relatively mild chili, yet one that still delivers a subtle little zing of spicy flavor. This is an elegant, light, creamy soup that incorporates just a hint of other summer-fresh veggies that offer a wonderful layering of flavors that make their presence known yet still allow the poblano to steal the show. It's a great soup to serve up as summer starts to ebb, letting warm days settle into cooler nights -- perfect conditions to begin with a warm soup, followed by a great salad, and then something hot off the grill.

The original inspiration for this soup came from a recipe that appeared in the Los Angeles Times newspaper over 20 years ago! Yikes! It's one of the very first clippings I ever saved so it holds a bit of a nostalgic place in my array of recipes. The fact that it's been in my repertoire this long says much about its delicious flavor. It does have a bit of a bite... though not one that's a can't-feel-my-tongue-or-taste-my-food bite. It's that great zip that makes you clear your throat, but entices you to take another spoonful... after spoonful... after spoonful. My feeling is that if you are going to have a warm starter... make it memorable!

Like most recipes I clip and safe, this one got tweaked a little here and there. The funny thing about this particular recipe is that the most profound change came from a relatively subtle addition... adding in some of the "cream" from canned cream corn. I know... go figure. This "cream" adds just the right touch of subtle sweetness that perfectly curbs the slightly rough edge of the poblano, without altering the soup's predominant flavor or light, smooth texture. It's a perfect little soup that can be potted up in late summer, topped with a little shredded monterey jack cheese and a sprig of fresh cilantro. Then, instead of serving bread or rolls, add a few corn tortilla chips alongside to dip and nibble (preferably homemade).

Though I'll always welcome the change of seasons (at least initially) given my penchant for soups, this Cream of Poblano is more than enough to silence those siren songs of hearty soups that blatantly try to pull you prematurely into cooler months. It's a perfect late summer soup... simple, flavorful, light, and elegant.

Cream of Poblano Soup
adapted from a Los Angeles Times newspaper recipe (at least 20 years ago, date unknown)
serves 4

3 medium poblano chilies
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced carrot
3 tablespoons clarified butter*
2 tablespoons flour
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 cup "cream" from canned cream-style corn
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon kosher salt (more to taste)
tortilla chips
monterey jack cheese (to top)

1. Heat oven to broil. Place chilies on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil and place in hot oven, approximately 4 inches from heat. Watch closely and turn chilies as they begin to blister and brown. Once chilies are well charred, remove from oven and place in a brown paper bag to "sweat" for approximately 10 minutes. Once sweated, remove skins and seeds (if you tear open your bag a bit and work atop it cleaning chilies, it makes for a great, easy clean up). Chop cleaned chilies to prep for soup. Set aside.

2. In a large soup pot over medium heat, add clarified butter. Add onion and carrot to butter, sauté for approximately 5 minutes. Add flour to veggies and mix well. Slowly incorporate stock and corn "cream," stirring to combine. Simmer stock for approximately 30 minutes.

3. Transfer soup stock to blender. Remove cap from top of blender to allow hot soup to "breathe." Cover exposed cap with a paper towel to prevent liquid from sputtering out top when puréed. If needed, purée soup in batches. Once completed blending, return soup to stock pot over medium-high heat.

4. Add whipping cream, fresh cilantro, and salt to stock. Heat soup to warm through. Ladle into bowls to serve warm (not hot), top with monterey jack cheese and a sprig of cilantro. Serve with tortilla chips.

*Clarified butter has a higher heat tolerance for sautéing. You essentially separate the milk solids and water of the butter from the butterfat. Figuring that you'll lose approximately 25% in the process, to get approximately 3 tablespoons of clarified butter, you'll need 4 tablespoons of butter. To clarify, place butter in a saucepan over a very low heat and do not stir it as it melts. As it melts, a foam will form on top. Skim this foam off of the butterfat, careful not to skim into butterfat. Then "decant" remaining butterfat into another container, careful to stop short of pouring water base under butterfat with it. Bottom line: don't fret, it's not like you are at an extreme heat here. Do your best and use the butterfat (clarified butter) you render .

** Pour corn from an approximate 14-ounce can of cream-style corn out into a sieve placed over a bowl. Using a spoon, push cream corn through sieve to render cream from corn. Discard corn kernels in sieve and set cream aside.

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