There is magic in soup. A beautiful kitchen alchemy in which a few simple ingredients are magically transformed into culinary precious treasure. There is nothing to me more satisfying than hefting the weight of my good enameled cast-iron Dutch oven from its special nook and placing it on the burner, ready to start my experiments, ready to create.
Soup runs from the sublime to the simple, elegant to hearty, haute to homey. I’ve been transported by a soup in Lisbon that tasted more of peas than a fresh pea picked from the vine in my garden, served with great pomp, the broth poured by a jacketed waiter to perfectly surround the tangle of pea shoots and a crème fraiche quenelle. I have savored a broth so complex and rich, swimming with hand-pulled noodles and puddled with grease on the side of the road in Cambodia. I have taken lessons in making traditional Moroccan harira from a cook in Marrakesch. I have burned my mouth and singed my tongue on fiery rasam in Kerala. I have perfected my own version of chicken noodle soup, packed with health-giving benefits. And been more than comforted by a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich prepared for me by my mother on the downest of days.
But this is perhaps my truest expression of soup love, because it is only partly mine. With very little guidance, my nieces created this soup with me in my kitchen. They decided what ingredients were necessary, chopped and sautéed, grated and stirred, tasted and perfected. It is everything they wanted in a soup – favorite tastes combined to create a tasty bowl of happy. It isn’t fancy or pretty – but why should it be? It’s good, it’s us, it’s our special aunt and nieces creation. I transcribe it here from my niece’s notes – “stuff to put in” followed by “do this” and ending with “Now you have cheeseburger soup!” A better recipe was never written.
Bacon Cheeseburger Soup
4 strips of bacon
1 pound ground beef
1 cup finely chopped onion (about 1 medium onion)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4 cups chicken broth
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ cup milk
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
2 Tablespoons yellow mustard
3 Tablespoons ketchup
Salt and pepper to taste
2 hamburger buns
Butter for the buns
Cook the bacon in a 5-quart Dutch oven until crispy, remove to paper towels to drain. Add the ground beef to the pot with the bacon grease and cook until beginning to brown, breaking the meat into small pieces. Add the chopped onion and garlic and cook until the onions are soft and the meat is cooked through. Drain the fat from the pot, then return it to the heat. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce, then add the chicken broth and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to simmer.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the milk and the flour until smooth. While the soup is simmering, stir in the flour and milk and stir and simmer until the soup is slightly thickened. Add the grated cheese a handful at a time, stirring to melt after each addition. When all the cheese is incorporated, stir in the mustard and the ketchup and add salt and pepper to taste. Crumble the cooked bacon and stir into the soup. Cover and simmer the soup for 10 minutes.
While the soup is simmering, spread each side of the hamburger buns with butter, cut into thin strips and toast in a toaster oven or under the broiler until lightly toasty. Serve the soup immediately, accompanied by the bun croutons. If you’d like, you could top with extra crumbled bacon, pickle relish, more grated cheese – anything you like on your cheeseburger!
Makes 4 big bowls