If you were to look at my diet and see the high proportion of liquidy things eaten out of a bowl, you might assume that I was of a lady of a certain age; one who has accepted the inevitable trade-off between life's lessons and a pair of dentures. I'm sorry to say that you'd be wrong. I continue to make the same mistakes and the dentures are saved for only the most special occasions.
The truth is that for economy, ability to be made ahead, and suitability for a crowd, soup wins the Serious Entertaining Gold Award. On a personal level, I find soup as comforting to make as to eat. Here are three of my favorites.
Italian Honeymoon Soup
I'm not trying to be overly coy with the title of this soup. The fact is that it's not the traditional Italian Wedding Soup, though to call it Turkey Meatball, Spinach, and Vegetable Soup would be slightly annoying. In any case, I love Italian Wedding Soup, though I often find myself wondering if there is a way to bump up the flavor.
For me, that starts with the meatballs. I decided to use ground turkey, not for health reasons but because unless I'm going all-in with a mix of pork, beef, and veal, I actually prefer its flavor for my meat patties. Panko breadcrumbs give these meatballs a light texture, and, for extra flavor, I add thyme, Parmesan cheese, lemon zest, and quite a few cloves of garlic. The meatballs are tender and flavorful, releasing just a bit of melted cheese when cut open. I've also gone heavy handed with the mirepoix, meaning that the celery, carrots, and onion don't just flavor the broth, they add a chunky vegetable element. The broth is livened with lemon and Parmesan. Spinach and small pasta finish off the soup.
As a starter: This soup, while rustic looking in large batches, can make a refined first course. I like to serve it in small bowls, presenting each person with just two or three meatballs. I might also strain out some of the vegetables, saving them to eat with the leftovers.
As a main: A large bowl of this soup, replete with vegetables, pasta, and meatballs, makes a hearty main course. I simply complete the meal the Italian way, with a loaf of crusty bread, a bottle of wine, and post-soup green salad to refresh our palates.
Tomato Avgolemono Soup
Avgolemono is a Greek soup made from chicken broth, rice, eggs, and lemon. It's light yet comforting, and a great way to brighten up a dreary winter menu.
Speaking of dreary winter menus, I am craving tomatoes like a madwoman. Luckily a can of good tomatoes gives this recipe just the right twist. Tomatoes are a natural pairing with both the rice and the creamy flavor of the soup (which actually comes from the eggs).
As a starter: Because of the high acidity of this soup, I think it makes the perfect start to a menu. The citrus will perk up your palate, while the rice will take the edge off your hunger. I like to serve it in wide, shallow bowls with a slice of lemon as garnish.
As a main: Thanks to the rice and the eggs, a large bowl of this soup is surprisingly filling. To bulk it up even more, stir in some shredded roasted chicken. Serve it with pita bread, tzatziki, and a bottle of white wine.
Provencal Lentil and Zucchini Soup
Lentils are great for entertaining because they're inexpensive and they don't require any pre-soaking. The broth of this soup has a rich tomato flavor that is flavored with bay leaf and thyme. Zucchini adds a freshness that contrasts with the meaty flavor of the lentils.
As a starter: With its variety of vegetables, this soup makes a nice start to a light meal. I'd follow it with whole grilled fish, baked salmon, or lemony roast chicken.
As a main: To make this soup more hearty, you can cook small pasta in the broth for about five minutes before serving. I also like to make cheesy garlic crostini and float them on top of each bowl. This soup pairs well with a light bodied, spicy red wine.