Cream of Broccoli Soup Recipe
Does your family balk at eating broccoli stems, but you hate the waste? Try this Cream of Broccoli recipe! Nothing goes to waste, you get the most nutritional benefit for your buck (broccoli stems are rich in fiber and have more calcium and Vitamin C than the florettes), they’ll never be the wiser, and the flavor might even convert some broccoli haters. In this recipe, broccoli is cooked two ways: the stems are pressure cooked until they are meltingly tender then pureed to form a thick soup base, and the florettes are roasted with a little olive oil to improve their flavor, and then are either rough chopped or pureed, depending on whether you like your cream soups with small chunks or silky smooth. If you want to gild the lily, top your soup with grated cheese or these cheddar croutons for cheesy richness and crunch.
Broccoli Shopping Tips. Fresh broccoli prices can vary widely depending on the time of year. Your surest way of getting good prices on broccoli (and other fresh produce) is to shop seasonally, buying your produce only during the peak of the domestic growing season when each vegetable is most plentiful, and therefore cheapest (fortunately, different fruits and vegetables naturally stagger their production, so for example, as strawberries become scarcer and more expensive, big, plump, juicy table grapes arrive to rescue your fruit budget). In the United States, broccoli is both a fall and spring crop, maturing during the cooler months of the fall and the early spring, before higher temperatures force the broccoli plants to seed. Another way you can keep your broccoli costs down is by purchasing at markets like Sprouts / Henrys, where produce is the emphasis, and therefore fruits and vegetables are the featured sale items (loss leaders). Make the base of this soup when prices are low, freeze it, then defrost and add your milk/half and half/cream for a super quick creamed soup meal.
As far as what to look for in a good head of broccoli, you need to understand that the prettiest and tastiest part of the broccoli, the florettes, are actually just that: flower buds. Each little bit of broccoli is a tiny flower bud. While it is green and tightly closed, it is immature, and therefore edible, when it opens and turns yellow, the bud has bloomed and the quality and taste will suffer. Look for heads of broccoli where the buds are a nice green color (the exact shade will depend on the variety of broccoli, some heads are a grayish green, some a vivid green, and still others a dark bluish green – what you want to avoid are yellowing or brown spots), they are closely packed in together, and there is no yellowing or other discoloration on the top or sides of the head. (There may be some slight yellowing of the buds trapped in the interior, where light is unable to reach them.) The head itself should feel heavy, the stem should be solid, without cuts, bruises or soft damaged spots, and the cut at the stem’s end should not have browned or hardened excessively, that’s a sign that the broccoli was cut longer ago than is desirable.
Pressure Cooking Broccoli. While the pressure cooker does magical things with many vegetables, improving the taste of tomatoes, turning potatoes into light and fluffy mashed potatoes, melding and infusing the flavors of mixed vegetables into wonderful soups, green vegetables like broccoli which get their coloring from chlorophyll need to be treated slightly differently. On Food and Cooking identifies several chlorophyll problems, including “[t]he second and more noticeable change in chlorophyll is the dulling of its color, which is caused when either heat or an enzyme nudge the magnesium atom from the center of the molecule. The replacement of magnesium by hydrogen is by far the most common cause of color change in cooked vegetables. In even slightly acidic water, the plentiful hydrogen ions displace the magnesium, a change that turns chlorophyll a into grayish-green pheophytin a, chlorophyll b into yellowish pheophytin b” and “when the temperature of the plant tissue rises above 140° F / 60° C, the organizing membranes in and around the chloroplast are damaged, and chlorophyll is exposed to the plants own natural acids.” (Both excessive acidity and alkalinity will facilitate the transformation of chlorophyll.)
There are two primary forms of chlorophyll, chlorophyll a and chlorophyll b. The latter gives a yellow green color to leaves and vegetables, the former gives more of a blue green shade. Unfortunately, while both are heat sensitive, chlorophyll a is particularly so, and under the high temperature environment of the pressure cooker, the lovely green colors turn grey green or olive green. I’ve compensated for this problem by splitting the cooking methods: the thicker and tougher stems are pressure cooked with a small amount of baking soda (to preserve color) until they are tender and the darker green florettes are roasted in the oven with a little olive oil to improve their flavor, then added to the soup at the very end, after pressure cooking, to preserve as much of their color as possible.
Gluten Free, Reduced Calorie and Lower Carb Versions of This Soup. Since many of us, myself included, are increasingly cooking for those with special dietary needs, I will try to include alternate instructions to convert recipes to meet those needs. If you’re counting calories, choose milk instead of half and half or cream, or if you are being really strict, you can enjoy the soup simply as a puree, without milk, and just thin it with broth. If you are cooking for someone with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease, you will need to use Gluten Free Broth (some broth contains wheat derivatives, click on the previous link to see current lists of GF broth products) and you should either use gluten free bread, or omit the cheddar croutons. For those who are cooking for someone who is counting carbohydrates, who has blood sugar issues, or diabetes, omit the carrot (root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, beets, etc. are the highest in carbohydrates), use cream instead of either milk or half and half (its my understanding that both milk and half and half contain milk sugars, which are carbs, cream does not) and add a little bit of grated cheese instead of the cheddar croutons.
TIP ON MILK PRODUCTS AND THE PRESSURE COOKER: Milk products, milk, half and half, cream, etc. are all naturally occurring emulsions, and those emulsions can be broken by excess heat. Always add milk / half and half / cream after pressure cooking, and ideally, after the food you’re incorporating it into has cooled somewhat after pressure has been released. The high heat of the pressure cooker could easily break the emulsion (while pasteurization involves high or even higher temperatures – around 275° F (135° C) for UHT pasteurization – pasteurization is done for only a few seconds, not for the minutes that would be involved in bringing a pressure cooker up to pressure. One way to reduce the chances of breaking the emulsion is to add a small amount of the hot food/liquid to the milk, and stirring it in well to raise the temperature of the milk, before incorporating the warmed milk into the main amount of hot food/liquid.
3 pounds fresh broccoli
1 head of garlic
1 large storage onion
2 stalks of celery
1 cup of carrot (1/4″ dice) (optional)
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon Chicken Base or Vegetable Base
1 (15-ounce) can / 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 – 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Coarse kosher salt
Coarsely ground pepper
1 – 2 cups of milk / half and half / cream
1 fresh lemon
Sourdough or other rustic bread (optional)
Cheddar cheese (optional)
Electric Pressure Cooker
12″ Silicone Tipped Tongs
Potato peeler (optional)
Cookie sheet or pan large enough to hold the broccoli
Oil Mister (optional)
Immersion Blender, food processor or blender
Pastry brush (optional)
Ladle or soup spoon
ROASTING TIP: You roast the broccoli in the oven in order to improve its flavor. It is very important, however, to dry the broccoli thoroughly (allow it to air dry if necessary) before roasting it because moisture on the surface of the florettes will keep the surface temperature from rising above the boiling point of water (212° F) and the Maillard reaction, one of the mechanisms by which hundreds of flavor compounds are created, works best at even higher temperatures. So always make sure vegetables to be roasted are patted or air dried and have only oil on their surface.
- Wash the broccoli and allow to dry thoroughly before proceeding. Once dry, cut the florettes from the stems, leaving as little stem on the florettes as possible. (If you want to use frozen broccoli you can. It won’t be as good, but you can use it. Just be sure and defrost it and dry off the florettes before roasting them, or they’ll steam in the oven instead of roasting.)
- Remove a ¼ inch from the bottom of each main stem and discard. (You can use a potato peeler to remove the outer layer of the stems, if desired.) Cut the stems into planks of roughly equal thickness (don’t worry about any florette stems that are sticking out), then cut the planks into ¼” thick “matchsticks”, and then dice the matchsticks into approximately ¼” thick cubes.
- Dice the onion, celery and carrots (optional) into approximately ¼” cubes. If you are cooking for someone counting their carbs, has blood sugar problems or diabetes, you can omit the carrot (as I’ve done here). Add the diced broccoli stems, onion, celery and carrots to the pressure cooker pot along with a cup of broth, ¼ teaspoon of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of chicken base or vegetable base. Lock the lid. Pressure cook at HIGH PRESSURE for 20 minutes using QUICK RELEASE.
- Optional: Use a pastry brush to brush the back of your bread slices with a thin coat of olive oil. Flip the bread slices over and add a thin layer of oil around the edge of the bread slices. The olive oil will help brown the bread and provide a richness to the cheddar croutons.
- Optional: Place the bread slices on top of some aluminum foil. Turn up the edges of the foil to prevent any excess cheddar or oil from dripping into your oven. Cut cheddar slices approximately 1/8″ thick (or use shredded cheddar) and place in the middle of the bread slices. You don’t need to cover the entire piece of bread, the cheddar will spread and cover most of the slice as it melts.
- Place the broccoli florettes on an cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil, larger pieces on the outside, smaller pieces, tightly packed, on the inside. If you have an oil mister, lightly mist the broccoli florettes with olive oil. If you don’t, hold your thumb almost completely over the opening of the olive oil bottle, hold the bottle up high over the broccoli florettes and shake your hand vigorously back and forth to get as little oil in any particular spot as you can. (This is really so much easier with a mister, so use it if you have one.) Place the florettes and bread slices on the middle rack of your oven and bake at 375° F / ° C (325° F / ° C for convection ovens) for 20 minutes (no preheating necessary).
- If you’re making the cheddar croutons, check the bread slices after 10 minutes, and every few minutes thereafter, and remove when the cheese has melted and is bubbling and the pieces of bread have reached the desired level of toasting. (There are hot spots in most ovens, so you may have to remove some slices before others.)
- Once the broccoli florettes have finished roasting, remove the cookie sheet from the oven. If you like your creamed soups with some texture, transfer the florettes to your cutting board and use your chef’s knife to hand chop the pieces to roughly the desired size. If you want your soup smooth, let the broccoli florettes cool on the cookie tray.
- When the pressure cooker timer goes off, turn of the “keep warm” function and quick release pressure. Once pressure has released, unlock the lid, hold it up at an angle, with the top of the lid facing towards you, like a shield, and allow any excess water to fall back into the pressure cooker pot. Set the lid to the side, away from your work area. (Don’t worry, the strong broccoli smell when you remove the lid will dissipate in a matter of minutes.)
- If you are using a food processor or blender, transfer portions of the pressure cooked vegetables at a time, completely puree them, remove the pureed vegetables to a third container, and continue until everything is completely smooth. The pureed broccoli and mirepoix will not only improve the flavor of your soup, but provide a thick base for it as well (no roux or other thickening agents will be required). If you have an immersion blender, use it instead, it will not only do an excellent job, but there’ll lots fewer things to wash.
- If you want a chunky soup, puree the pressure cooked vegetables until smooth and add the chopped florettes for texture. If you want a smooth soup, puree the broccoli stems first to get as much liquid in the pot, and then add the dry florettes, in several batches, and puree until smooth. If you want to freeze all or part of the soup, stop here: package the soup in a freezer safe container, and mark it with how much cream and/or broth to add to the soup when its defrosted and served.
- Once you have the desired consistency, add at least one cup of milk, half and half or cream to the soup, and stir well to incorporate. At this point, how thick or thin you like your soup is a matter of personal preference: you may want to stop there, or add additional liquid, one half cup at a time. Take a taste. You can add more milk/cream if you want a richer, creamier soup, or dilute with chicken or vegetable stock if you like the taste as is but just want a thinner soup.
- Once you have added as much milk/cream and broth to get the desired creaminess and consistency, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to the soup, plus salt and pepper to taste. (For example, I added 1 teaspoon of coarse kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper.) You may notice that the cream may weep a bit in the soup mixture, this shouldn’t be much of a problem when you’re stirring and eating it, but if it does bother you, you could add a tiny bit of dried mustard to the soup. (I kid you not, mustard is an emulsifier, and The Flavor Bible says mustard goes really, really well with broccoli, its one of my favorite cooking reference books, and they’ve never steered me wrong.). Add just a little bit, stir it in really thoroughly, taste, and wait a few minutes to see if any more weeping happens, then add a small bit more if desired.
Once you have seasoned the soup as desired, use the “Sauté” setting to gently warm your finished soup back up. Ladle or spoon into cups or bowls for service.
- Use your chef’s knife to cut the melted cheddar and toasted bread into “cheddar croutons”. Place the croutons on top of your soup, cheddar side up.
IMMERSION BLENDER TIP: Immersion Blenders are GREAT tools for pureeing food – you can puree your soup ingredients right in the cooking pot, without having to use (and then clean) another bowl, a blender or food processor. Saves a lot of time and you won’t have to fill up half a dishwasher rack with food processor parts. The cutting blade is recessed, and the bell that surrounds it extends well below it, so there is no way the blade could damage your pots. For best results, rest the bottom of the bell on the bottom of the pot, or close to it, and keep most of the bell immersed in the liquid / food. (Raising the bell too high in the food could result in splattering.)
FREEZER MEAL TIP: Purchase your fresh broccoli in bulk during seasonal peaks, when its most affordable, and prepare the base of the soup (Steps 1 – 3, 6 and 8 – 11 above) for freezing. The pureed soup base is extremely compact, and can be stored in your freezer in freezer safe storage containers, either by batch or in individual serving sizes. (Be sure to allow some room in the container for the soup to expand as it freezes.) Pull out some frozen soup base when you need a quick hot meal on a cold winter night or when you have some extra cream or half and half you want to use up.
REHEATING TIP: As I elaborated on in my Milk and Pressure Cooking tip, milk, half and half and cream are emulsions that can be broken (the milk product ruined) through the use of excessive heat for too long. When reheating your soup after refrigeration or freezing, don’t boil it. That risks breaking it. Re-warm it gently, at a simmer or slightly above, and don’t bring the soup up to a boil, for best results.
- 3 pounds fresh broccoli
- 1 head of garlic
- 1 large storage onion
- 2 stalks of celery
- 1 cup of carrot (1/4" dice) (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon Chicken Base or Vegetable Base
- 1 (15-ounce) can / 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 – 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Coarse kosher salt
- Coarsely ground pepper
- 1 – 2 cups of milk / half and half / cream
- 1 fresh lemon
- Sourdough or other rustic bread (optional)
- Cheddar cheese (optional)
- Wash and thoroughly dry the broccoli. Removing the florettes, cutting them as close to the heads as possible.
- Remove about ¼" from the bottom of the main stem. Remove the outer peel of the stem, if desired. Cut the main stem into ¼" planks, the planks into ¼" matchsticks and the matchsticks into ¼" cubes.
- Dice the onion, celery and carrots (optional) into ¼" cubes. If you're cooking for someone who is counting their carbs, has blood sugar issues or diabetes, omit the carrot. Add the diced broccoli stems and vegetables, 1 cup of broth, 1 tablespoon of chicken or vegetable base and ¼ teaspoon baking soda to the pot. (Note: if you are cooking for someone with gluten sensitivities, use gluten free broth.) Lock the pressure cooker lid. Pressure cook at HIGH PRESSURE for 20 minutes using QUICK PRESSURE RELEASE.
- Optional: Brush a small amount of olive oil on the back of the bread and the edges of the front side. (If you are cooking for someone with gluten issues, use either GF bread or use shredded cheddar instead of the cheddar croutons).
- Optional: Place the bread on aluminum foil, turning the edges of the foil slightly up. Cut the cheddar approximately ⅛" thick and place the slices on top of the bread.
- Place the florettes on a foil lined cookie sheet, large pieces on the outside, smaller pieces packed tightly on the inside. Spray a light coat of olive oil on the florettes. Bake the florettes and cheese/bread slices at 375° F / ° C (325° F / ° C for convection ovens) for 20 minutes.
- Check the cheese and bread slices after 10 minutes, and every few minutes thereafter. Remove from the oven when cheddar has melted and bread is nicely toasted and brown at the edges.
- Once the florettes have roasted, remove them from the oven. If you want soup with texture, roughly chop the florettes to the desired size. If you want a smooth soup, set aside.
- When the pressure cooker alarm goes off, turn off "keep warm" setting and turn the release valve knob to quick release pressure. When the machine unlocks, remove the lid, hold it over the pot to let any hot water fall back in, and place the lid outside your work area.
- Use an Immersion Blender, blender or food processor to puree the pressured cooked vegetables until completely smooth.
- If you want your soup to have texture, add the chopped florettes to the soup and stir in by hand. If you want a smooth soup, add part of the florettes to the soup, puree the mixture until smooth, and add additional batches of florettes until soup is completely smooth. If you want to freeze your soup, stop here. Place the soup base in freezer safe packaging, allowing room for expansion during freezing, and mark the package with how much cream and/or broth to add before freezing.
- Add a cup of cream / half and half / milk to the soup base and stir to thoroughly incorporate. Add additional liquid, ½ cup at a time, until the desired thickness is reached. Add more milk / half and half / cream if you want more richness, use broth instead if you just want to thin out the soup. (Note: if you are cooking for someone with diabetes, blood sugar issues, or who is counting their carbs, use cream instead of milk or half and half.)
- Once you've reached the desired consistency, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus pepper and salt to taste. If your soup weeps, you can add a small amount of powdered mustard (which is an emulsifier) and thoroughly whisk it in, then wait and see if the soup still weeps, and add a small amount more, repeating until weeping stops. Use the "simmer" function to gently re-warm the soup.
- Cut up the cheese toasts into small "cheddar croutons" and place on top of the soup.