Mention "cheese soup" and my mind immediately goes towards the neon orange cans of condensed Campbell's stuck between the chicken noodle and bean with bacon in the middle of the grocery store. But for Dave Becker, cheese is just another way to dress up soups in his new book, Stewed. Instead of attempting to incorporate cheese directly into his Cheddar Ale Soup, he melts it on top à la French Onion. Oh, and that soup base? It's made up of beer. Yes, beer. And bacon. If this combination seems a bit off the wall, consider what's often eaten with beer: cheese, bread, pork products, and mustard. All make an appearance in what is one of the strangest, yet strangely comforting bowls of soup I've made so far this winter.
Why I picked this recipe: Beer and cheese soup is way outside of my comfort zone but seemed worth an exploration (especially since the cheese goes on top, and not in, the soup).
What worked: Rye bread, cheese, and mustard are obvious pairings for beer; they work just as well in a soup as they do on an appetizer platter.
What didn't: I would have liked larger pieces of vegetables, or at least more of them, in the soup. As written, the bulk of the soup is a bit too brothy, even when the bread soaks up some of its liquid.
Suggested tweaks: If you don't have broiler-safe soup bowls, you may make a reasonable approximation by broiling the cheese toasts and floating them on top of the soup. Be sure to let the bread sit on top for a minute or so to allow it to begin to soak up the broth before digging in.
Reprinted with permission from Stewed: A Collection of Soups, Braises, and Stews from Sweet Basil by Dave Becker, copyright 2012. Published by Garden Variety Publishing. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- Yield:serves 4 to 6
- Active time: 40 minutes
- Total time:1 hour
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 ounces bacon, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1/2 cup parsnips, scrubbed, 1/4-inch dice
- 1/2 cup turnips, scrubbed, 1/4-inch dice
- 1/2 cup carrots, scrubbed, 1/4-inch dice
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- Pinch allspice
- 1/4 vanilla bean
- 1 cup Spanish onions, finely diced
- 1/2 cup celery, 1/4-inch dice
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 3 cups okay ale
- 1 quart beef stock or chicken stock
- Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
- 4 to 6 slices rye bread (preferably stale)
- 3 cups good and sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated
In a large saucepan, preheat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the bacon to the pan, and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, until some of the grease has rendered. Place all of the root veggies in the pan, and sauté for 5 to 10 minutes, or until they are beginning to brown.
Add the bay leaf, thyme, ginger, allspice, vanilla bean, onions, and celery. Sauté this mixture for 5 minutes or until the onions begin to brown. Add the vinegar and the ale, bring the liquid to a boil, and then add the beef or chicken stock.
Return the liquid to a boil, and then season with some salt and pepper. Decrease the heat to the lowest possible setting, and allow the soup to simmer for 20 minutes, or until the root vegetables are softened to your liking. Remove from the heat, fish out the bay leaf, and swirl in the butter.
Preheat the oven’s broiler. Ladle the soup into heat proof bowls or crocks. Smear the grain mustard over the bread slices, and then arrange on top of the soup. Top each slice of bread with a portion of the cheese. Place the crocks o’ soup under the broiler until the cheese is bubbly and brown. Serve immediately.