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The Easiest Soup Ever

Broccoli Soup with Spam
About a decade ago, before Gordon Ramsay was a household name here in the U.S. and before every video under the sun was available on Youtube, he had a show in the UK called Gordon Ramsay Makes it Easy. In one episode, he made a simple broccoli soup that really impressed me and it’s a recipe that I’ve revisited on several occasions over the years. The reason it was so impressive is because the soup was basically just 3 ingredients- broccoli, water, and salt, yet the end result was a soup with an elegant flavor and texture you might even call luxurious. It’s simple, delicious and versatile.

To make the soup, start by bringing some water to a boil with a little bit of salt. Drop in the broccoli florets and boil until they’re soft. Scoop them into your blender jar along with some of the cooking liquid. In terms of quantities, about 2 large stalks of broccoli will yield enough florets to fill my blender jar almost full, and for that amount, I would add enough water to go about halfway up the level of the broccoli. Cover the blender, but take the stopper out of the lid and cover with a towel. If you’ve never blended hot liquids before, do not take this step lightly because I don’t care how strong you are, you won’t be able to keep the lid on if the stopper is left in; if you don’t give it an opening to vent it will blow the top off the blender and cover your kitchen with broccoli. Even with the stopper out and a towel over the top, start with a few short pulses just to be safe before you allow it to really whirl. It should take less than 30 seconds to become soup-like. Just check the consistency and if it’s too thick for your taste, add some more of the cooking liquid and whizz it again. Add salt if it needs it, and then you’re done with the basic soup.

While it’s fine as-is, you will almost certainly want to chef it up a bit. Considering it’s basically nothing but the essence of broccoli, I find that it needs a little bit of fat and texture to elevate the satisfaction level and there are many different ways to get there. In Gordon Ramsay’s tv show, he finishes it with a some walnuts and a couple medallions of ash-rolled goat cheese. I’ve made a nice variation topped with fried garlicky bread crumbs. Or if you are insistent on keeping it fat-free, I once made it with toasted sliced almonds and it was really good too. But this weekend, I came up with my new favorite rendition, the one you see pictured at the top of this post. In true chef fashion, I was inspired by the fact that Spam was in season, i.e. on sale at H-Mart, so I decided to go with it. I did a brunoise of Spam (the low-sodium kind) and browned it up in a little olive oil with pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika) for a little smoky accent. And since I was feeling extra ambitious, before I served it, I actually ran the broccoli soup through a fine mesh sieve for an even silkier texture. That’s something I remember reading that they do in the French Laundry kitchen- whenever a liquid gets transferred from one container to another, they strain it through a chinois. It makes a noticeable difference. I was really happy with the end result- a nice color contrast, luxurious mouthfeel from the broccoli, a beautiful scent from the paprika, and of course the savory addictiveness that can only come from a processed meat product!


It’s been a while since I’ve been impressed enough by a restaurant that I felt compelled to write again, but after several trips up to Connecticut to dine at Elm I have been sufficiently wowed. Located on a quaint downtown street in New Canaan, Elm has a modern but elegantly casual feel to it. My favorite spot to dine is at the counter seats in the back from which you get this view into the open kitchen:
Elm kitchen

It’s a real pleasure to watch the team at Elm work. The kitchen is led by chef/owner Brian Lewis (not in the picture above), who’s food I first encountered way back in 2009 when he was doing a pasta demo at a tasting event. Back then, he was representing Richard Gere’s restaurant, the Farmhouse at Bedford Post (another one of my absolute favorites) where he was the original chef. I was impressed by him then and even more so now. At Elm, he’s assembled a kitchen staff that really cares about what they do. And I know this because I have been there on multiple occasions when Chef Lewis had the night off and I still witnessed the highest level of care and attention to detail under the direction of sous chef Devin Broo. Every plate was wiped of fingerprints with tiny squares of napkin they keep at the ready just for that purpose, almost as meticulous as the way Momofuku Ko wipes down plates using drops of vodka. Seeing the Elm team work reminds me of Paul Newman’s line from The Hustler when he’s describing how any activity can be elevated to greatness, “if a guy knows. If he knows what he’s doing and why and if he can make it come off.” Everyone in that kitchen, including the dishwasher, seems to work with that sense of pride and purpose. The kitchen space itself is spacious and bright, and the team moves about it with a calm efficiency reminiscent of how Charlie Trotters’ kitchen used to hum.

From a kitchen that polished you’d expect the food to be world class, and it certainly is. The ever changing menu is of the farm to table variety but not in an obnoxious crunchier-than-thou sort of way. The printed menu won’t list the provenance of every ingredient on the plate like some restaurants do these days. The descriptions are straightforward, clean and elegant, just like the kitchen. Consider them confidently understated, because without fail when the dishes arrive before you, they are artfully plated masterpieces to behold, and they are even more pleasurable to eat. Take for example this dish of “Glazed Spring Vegetables”:
Elm Glazed Spring Vegetables

It is perhaps the quintessential Elm dish. It treats the incredible ingredients with greatest of care and respect, elevating and accenting them with a rich buttery nage and laced with a drizzle of honey. Every element on that plate was spectacular, especially those baby radishes which were ridiculously juicy. The richness of the dish speaks to Elm’s approach of making things delicious first and foremost. Yes it’s a farm to table restaurant, but they are cooking to satisfy a foodie’s palate, not a hippie’s consciousness. That’s my kind of sensibility.

With this approach there are no cultural boundaries to constrain them. So you may have Japanese flavors of yuzu and ginger mignonette over raw oysters for one app and follow that up with the Thai curry broth in these mussels:
Elm Thai Curry Mussels

And then jump over to France with this, possibly the most brilliantly conceived and executed presentation of foie gras I’ve ever tasted:
Elm Foie Gras

It’s a dish of seared foie with sherry lentil jus, spiced rhubarb, and the kicker- crushed bits of smoked macadamia nuts. Lentils are the perfect element to add substance to each bite of foie because they give you just enough of something to chew while being subtle enough in flavor not to interfere with the star of the show. The rhubarb of course brings the sweetness and acidity you need in any good foie dish. But the eye opener for me was the smoked macadamias. I never knew that foie gras could be elevated by the addition of smoke, but now I do and I will never be the same. It provides you with a hit of smoky pleasure and interest right up front as you take your bite, just before the wave of richness from the foie washes over you as it melts on your tongue. Just an awesome dish. Just an awesome restaurant.