Years ago, when I was pregnant, all the advice books swore that smart moms-to-be made sure to eat broccoli three times a day.
It seemed a bit extreme to me, but I went with it. It wasn't that hard. I've always loved broccoli, even if it does have an unfortunate aroma. It's an excellent source of protein, calcium, iron, dietary fiber and many vitamins and minerals. And eating it three times a day when I was pregnant did not kill my affection for it after I gave birth.
It helps that it's easy to cook, too. Broccoli does well steamed, roasted, grilled or sauteed. You can also boil it, of course, as long as you don't overdo it, which not only chases away all the nutrients and turns the vegetable to mush, but also amps up that funky smell. Bottom line — broccoli is hearty and full-bodied. It can be the main actor in any meal.
Which is why broccoli is the star of this substantial stick-to-your-ribs soup for fall. To be sure, there's some Canadian bacon in it, adding flavor, but it plays only a supporting role. Pork in all its forms, especially regular old bacon, is the darling of many chefs these days. But I don't add it willy-nilly to every recipe, not least because of its fattiness.
Canadian bacon, by contrast, delivers that same smoky taste — reminiscent of the hearth and fall leaves burning — without a ton of calories. Canadian bacon actually is smoked pork loin, one of the leanest parts of the pig, and has no relation to regular bacon, which comes from the fatty belly.
And just as this soup boasts smokiness without a lot of bacon fat, it is thick and creamy without any butter, cream or flour. The trick? Pureeing the vegetables.
Any soup with enough vegetables will be creamy when you puree it. And just about any vegetable will work, though I smuggled in a single Yukon gold potato to assist the broccoli in this recipe. And by the way, a soup without a lot of cream or butter will not only be leaner, it also will taste that much more vividly of the vegetables with which it is made. Cream and butter, much as I love them, tend to tamp down flavor.
The best tool to puree these vegetables is a blender. But if all you have on hand is a food processor or an immersion blender, don't worry. The finished soup won't be quite as silky smooth, but it'll still be delicious. And to save time and money, I've used every part of the broccoli. I roasted 3 cups of the florets and added them at the end to add crunch and color to the soup.
I hope you will consider this mostly vegetable soup a suitable candidate for the main course at dinner. With some grilled or toasted country bread and a green salad on the side, I promise you will be plenty satisfied.
Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years. She stars in PBS' "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and is author of "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."