Friends in the last city where I lived threw a soup party annually, right at the point where fall meets winter and the air is crisp. Soup is something even a novice cook can attempt, and even the pickiest eater will enjoy. So last week, just before the holiday began and friends left town, Mr. S. and I threw a little soup party of our own.
(Oh yeah, still adjusting to that whole I-have-a-blog mentality and so I didn’t capture things in pictures. Sorry, guys. I’ll do better next time?)
Mr. S. and I invited just a few friends from different corners of life. A few of his fellow grad students, a few neighbors, a few friends from church, a few friends from undergrad. Our campus minister had a phrase to describe this phenomenon: bringing worlds together. His eyes would light up whenever he saw it happening. Frankly, my eyes light up too.
I think community can happen anywhere. But it happens more swiftly, more beautifully, more warmly over a meal.
We sent e-invitations; I love the selection on Pingg because each is created by an artist. On the invitation, we asked guests to bring something to share. A pot of soup, some bread, wine, dessert. Let it be known: my friends know their way around the kitchen. Maybe I’m biased, but we had quite the spread.
Friends brought homemade focaccia with rosemary, bread with olive oil for dipping, baguettes and crackers. One friend brought herb-laden meatballs with fresh vegetables.
The soup selection was diverse and delicious. Middle Eastern lentil. Chicken wild rice. Spicy potato. Baked potato. And a third (equally delicious) potato. Creamy tomato. I made clam chowder.
And the wine . . . oh, the wine. Always a hit. We have 12 standard wine glasses, some stemless and some with a stem. And my sweet grandma gave us her crystal wine glasses; she has no idea how vintage-chic they are.
I hesitated at first, but Mr. S. talked me into using disposable bowls. As much as I love the perfectly white bowls we use each day, the disposable bowls let our guests sample as many soups as they wished. This small tweak made the party, and the cleanup afterward, go smoothly. I’ve learned from one of my favorite bloggers, the Reluctant Entertainer, that things don’t have to be glamorous to be hospitable. (I’m learning — slowly.)
For dessert, we served vanilla and chocolate ice cream. Simple, but both containers were empty in 15 minutes. 15 minutes!
I’ve made the clam chowder before and it’s a delight every time. Also suggested by my friend Elizabeth, I’ve adapted the recipe from Bon Appetit.
New England Clam Chowder
adapted from Bon Appetit
- 3 8-ounce bottles clam juice (I found mine, after quite the quest, in the soup aisle at my grocery store. Surprise, surprise.)
- 1 pound russet potatoes (or your favorite potatoes) peeled, cut into half-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
- 5 slices bacon, finely chopped (and remove all excess fat after cooking; greasy soup is a terrible idea)
- 2 cups chopped onions
- 1 1/4 cups chopped celery with leaves (about 2 large stalks)
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 6 6 1/2-ounce cans chopped clams, drained, juices reserved (again, in the soup aisle)
- 1 1/4 cups half and half (or less, if the goal is a thinner soup)
- 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
Peel and chop potatoes, celery and onions; set aside. Bring bottled clam juice to boil in large saucepan — not the stockpot, you’ll use that later — and add potatoes. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
In large, heavy stockpot or dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. Chop bacon and add to stockpot; cook until bacon begins to brown, about 8 minutes. Drain excess grease. Like I said, greasy soup is a terrible idea. Add onions, celery, garlic and bay leaf. Saute until vegetables are softened, about 6 minutes. Stir flour gradually and cook for 2 minutes or less. Gradually whisk in reserved juices from clams. (I like to open the cans almost all the way and pour juices through a strainer.) Add potato mixture, clams, half and half and hot pepper sauce. Simmer chowder to blend flavors for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low; season to taste with salt and pepper.
Soup can be prepared as little as half an hour ahead; like most soups, though, this one is even better the next day.