- Associated Press - Thursday, September 27, 2012

Years ago, when I was pregnant with my children, all the advice books swore that smart mothers-to-be made sure to eat broccoli three times a day.

It seemed a bit extreme to me, but I went with it. It wasn’t that hard. I’ve always loved broccoli, and it’s an excellent source of protein, calcium, iron, dietary fiber and many vitamins and minerals.

It helps that it’s easy to cook, too. Broccoli does well steamed, roasted, grilled or sauteed. Bottom line — broccoli is hearty and full-bodied. It can be the main actor in any meal.

That is why broccoli is the star of this substantial, stick-to-your-ribs soup for fall. Canadian bacon is in it to add flavor, but it plays only a supporting role. (Canadian bacon is smoked pork loin, one of the leanest parts of the pig, and has no relation to regular bacon, which comes from the fatty belly.)

Just as this soup boasts smokiness without a lot of bacon fat, it is thick and creamy without any butter, cream or flour. The trick? Pureeing the vegetables.

Any soup with enough vegetables will be creamy when you puree it. Just about any vegetable will work, though I’ll acknowledge that I smuggled in a single Yukon gold potato to assist the broccoli in this recipe. By the way, a soup without a lot of cream or butter will be leaner and will taste that much more vividly of the vegetables with which it is made. Cream and butter, as much as I love them, tend to tamp down flavor.

The best tool to puree these vegetables is a blender. But if all you have on hand is a food processor or an immersion blender, don’t worry. The finished soup won’t be quite as silky smooth, but it still will be delicious. To save time and money, I’ve used every part of the broccoli. I roasted 3 cups of the florets and added them at the end to add crunch and color to the soup.

SMOKY CREAM OF BROCCOLI SOUP WITH SHARP CHEDDAR

Start to finish: 45 minutes

Servings: 4 mains or 8 starters

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

¾ pound Canadian bacon, chopped

1 medium yellow onion, sliced (about 1 cup)

2 pounds fresh broccoli (4 cups small florets set aside, the rest, including the stalks, trimmed of tough skin and coarsely chopped)

1 small Yukon gold potato (about 6 ounces), scrubbed and thinly sliced

5 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste

2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. In a large saucepan over medium, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the bacon and cook, stirring, for 6 to 8 minutes, or until slightly golden. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a bowl and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add another tablespoon of the oil and the onion to the pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened. Add the coarsely chopped broccoli (not the florets), potato and chicken broth. Bring the broth to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes, stirring every so often or until the broccoli and potatoes are very tender.

Meanwhile, on a rimmed baking sheet, toss the florets with the remaining 2 teaspoons oil. Season with salt and pepper, then spread in an even layer. Roast in the top third of the oven for 5 minutes, or until lightly caramelized.

When the vegetables in the soup are tender, transfer the soup to a blender and puree, in batches, until smooth. Be careful and fill the blender only a third full each time.

Return the soup to the saucepan, along with the roasted broccoli florets and the Canadian bacon. Add the lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper. Add water, if necessary, to achieve the desired texture. Ladle the soup into 4 shallow soup bowls and top each portion with some of the cheddar.