- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2006

My book club meets monthly at 4 p.m. on Sunday, but for June we have changed to a weeknight. Because it’s my turn to host, I have been in a quandary about what to serve.

For Saturday afternoons, we have fallen into an easy pattern of appetizers and wine or desserts and coffee, but because our weeknight meeting is at dinnertime, I need something more substantial. The problem is that I have a huge cooking class the night before and just a few hours free for shopping and cooking the day of our meeting.

My solution is a new recipe for chilled broccoli soup with mascarpone. I love the simplicity of preparation. I buy broccoli florets at the supermarket and simmer them for a few minutes in chicken stock along with sauteed shallots. Salt and a pinch of cayenne are the only seasonings.

After pureeing this mixture, I whisk in creamy mascarpone cheese. All that is left is to chill the soup and garnish each serving with a dollop of mascarpone and a tiny broccoli floret.

To go with the soup, I will make a salad of baby arugula (purchased already cleaned, of course) tossed in an orange vinaigrette. I’ll buy sliced prosciutto to arrange on a platter and pick up a crusty whole-grain loaf and some delectable caramel almond squares from the bakery for dessert.

Although this cold soup can stand on its own, it also could begin a summer meal. No matter how you serve this delicious soup, it’s so effortless, you’ll probably find yourself with enough time left over to read a few pages of a favorite book.

Chilled broccoli soup with mascarpone

This soup can be prepared 1 day ahead; keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup sliced shallots

1 pound broccoli florets, divided (see note)

5 cups chicken stock

8 ounces mascarpone, divided

Kosher salt

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Heat oil until hot in a large heavy (lidded) pot set over medium high heat. Add shallot and saute, stirring, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes.

Reserve 2 of the broccoli florets for garnish and add the rest to the pan. Saute florets with the shallots for 1 minute. Then add the stock. Bring mixture to a simmer and lower heat. Cover pot and cook at a simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and cool soup 15 minutes. Then puree it in a food processor or blender or with an immersion blender, handling soup cautiously because it still will be warm.

Remove 2 tablespoons mascarpone for the garnish and set it aside in a small bowl; cover and refrigerate. Whisk remaining mascarpone, a few tablespoons at a time, into soup. Cool the soup to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until well chilled, 3 hours or longer.

Cut reserved broccoli florets, lengthwise, into 6 small florets or pieces. Place them in a small saucepan or skillet and cover with water. Bring water to a boil and cook florets until bright green and just tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain florets, rinse under cold water to cool and pat dry. If using soon, leave at room temperature; otherwise, cover florets and refrigerate.

When soup is chilled, taste and season with 1 to 1½ teaspoons salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper. If desired, add more salt and cayenne pepper. (Chilled soups often need extra seasonings.) Divide soup evenly among six bowls and garnish each serving with a dollop of mascarpone and a broccoli floret.

Makes 6 servings.

Note: My local supermarket sells packages of individual broccoli florets, the small tender green bud portion of the broccoli spear. If these are not available, you can buy broccoli crowns, which are the wide top green floret portion of the broccoli spear. They usually have most of the tough stems removed. If using the crowns, cut them into smaller florets and dice the stems.


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