Nothing works to ward away winter like homemade soup

by April Lisante
Posted 1/21/21

This is typically the time of year I start to count the days until spring. Just when I think it can’t get any colder, a polar vortex is here, with plans to stick around for weeks.

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Nothing works to ward away winter like homemade soup


This is typically the time of year I start to count the days until spring. Just when I think it can’t get any colder, a polar vortex is here, with plans to stick around for weeks.

Weather like this has me craving some nice hot soup. Homemade soup. But I’ve always felt like it’s so much work.

Like so many homemade meals, soup gets a bad rap. Many home cooks imagine hours spent creating stocks with butcher bones, watching the pot that seems to take forever to boil, then having to wait patiently all day to simmer the goods before finally being able to eat.

And you’d think that the fancier the soup, the more difficult and time consuming it would be, right? This week, we will dispel all of these soup myths – and have gourmet versions at home.

“Everyone thinks it takes a long time,” said Jansen chef David Jansen. “There are certain ways you can get around the length of time and make a really good soup.”

Hoping to make some soup from scratch myself, I asked Jansen for a Soup 101 crash course at his Mount Airy restaurant this week and he was happy to oblige. I love to cook, but admitted soup wasn’t in my repertoire. (I also cringed as I admitted I bought cold tubs of Panera cheddar broccoli and chicken noodle at the store recently.)

I gave him carte blanche to choose whatever soup he wanted as a tutorial and much to my delight, he randomly chose escarole soup. That’s Italian Wedding Soup for us lay people.

Now in his fifth year at his eponymous bistro in the 18th century Cresheim Cottage at Germantown and Gowen Aves., Jansen is going strong despite the pandemic, with his farm-to-table take on new American cuisine. Newly reopened for indoor dining, he survived the darkest months of the pandemic thanks to a loyal local following and a picturesque heated and tented outdoor garden patio.

Winter is a time for this virtuoso to put some of his masterful soups on display. While at the Four Seasons Hotel for more than two decades at the Swan and Fountain restaurants, soups were an integral part of Jansen's menus, from the history-making brunches to the French-inspired dinners. 

The base of any soup, he says, is the stock. You can make one by simmering a chicken carcass with onion, garlic and herbs in water. Cook it for an hour if you’re in a hurry, then strain it and you have the base for a bevy of soups. If you have time to make a low and slow stock, leave it simmering for a few hours to age to perfection. Both versions will freeze well in plastic containers and make soups for days. 

“Ask for a chicken carcass at the butcher,” Jansen recommends. “Rinse the bones, boil it in water with bay leaf, thyme, parsley, black pepper. Skim it off, then reduce it to low for three or four hours.

“The reason you go slow is your stock will turn out nice and clear,” he said. “A rolling boil has the tendency to make the stock become cloudy.”

Most basic soups involve some saute work with the onion and garlic, then some stock and finally cooked meat. Add cream at the end and you have an even more complex flavor. Puree the soup after it’s cooked and you have a delicious twist, making a smooth more refined soup instead of a hunky and chunky hearty soup.

On the day of my tutorial, Jansen began by small dicing two onions and several cloves of garlic. He heated a stock pan then added olive oil, the onion and garlic. Once translucent, he added chopped escarole and let it saute for a few minutes. Then, he added chicken stock and let it simmer. To save time, he’d pre-roasted some bone-in chicken thighs, Italian sausages and Brats. He also had mini Italian meatballs on hand. Once the pot had been simmering about 20 minutes, he added more broth and the meats. That was it. He advised flavoring soups with salt and pepper as each phase is complete, or several times rather than just in the beginning.

 While the soup simmered, he separately blanched some acini di pepe, the traditional Italian pasta for escarole soup. When it came out of the water after about two minutes, he generously doused it with olive oil. He prefers not to add pasta to the soup, but rather to place the blanched pasta in the bottom of a bowl and ladle soup on top.

“The pasta gets hit with a little olive oil and that’s it,” said Jansen, who garnishes the soup with cracked red pepper, grated Parmesan and a crusty baguette.

“When it comes down to cooking soup, it doesn’t have to take a long period of time, but to get a good [homemade] product, you have to use good food.”

I ended up trying the soup at home and it turned out great. I used College Inn chicken broth to cut out the stock-making step (I know, I know. Lazy me.), and while Jansen typically sautes his meats in the pan with the onion and garlic to start the soup, roasting it separately does save time and adds just as much flavor to the broth. I opted for pre-roasting the meats.

Jansen’s Escarole Soup in My Kitchen

  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Sprig of thyme
  • Sprig of parsley
  • 2 cans white beans for soup.
  • 4 cups escarole
  • 3 boxes College Inn chicken broth
  • 1 package bone-in chicken thighs, roasted and deboned
  • 1 package sweet Italian sausage, roasted and chopped
  • Roughly two dozen small meatballs
  • 1 box acini di pepe pasta

Heat small stock pot on high. Add extra virgin olive oil until hot. Add garlic and onion, herbs and sautee until onion translucent. Add escarole and saute for a few minutes. Add one box chicken broth and simmer. Add cut up meats, white beans and remainder of chicken broth. Simmer on low for about an hour. Serve over a cup of pasta. Serves 4.