Posted by: ThePseudotarian | February 15, 2011

Heidi Swanson’s Orzo Soup

Can you believe it’s February already? I absolutely cannot. It feels like just yesterday that I was driving down the highway to see my parents on Christmas morning. Regardless of my issues with time perception … it’s February and that seems so absurd to me.

We are just one month (ONE MONTH!) away from moving, so I feel like I should cram as many posts as possible into the next four weeks, because I doubt I will have time with all my planned painting and projects. Plus, the weather is starting to get warm and I see a lot of afternoons where I want to run home and walk the puppy instead of writing a blog post.

Additionally … my weird job (that I can only describe vaguely) is changing. That means a lot of training, and a lot less time to hop around the internet and write blog posts for you all to read.

Whew.

Sorry for that disjointed disclaimer for my possible lack of posts in the future. I DO want to keep this going, however, so I’m going to share one of my absolute favorite recipes of all time. Seriously! I make this recipe at least once a month, if not closer to once a week. I think you’ll find it’s a great way to … reset … after a particularly grueling week or a weekend of too much fun and celebration. For that reason, I often make this on Sunday. From it, I’m able to set the previous week and fun weekend behind me, and look ahead with clarity to what’s coming in the next seven days.

Oh, and it’s relatively inexpensive.

And healthy.

And variable.

It’s perfect with a sandwich and your favorite movie.

Before I get started however, I have to note that this is NOT my recipe … and then I have to start gushing about Heidi. Have you been to 101cookbooks.com? Heidi’s website was the catalyst for my vegetarian whole foods obsession. I’d already started dabbling in vegetarian eating, but these recipes made me see what eating healthy, whole (unprocessed) foods was all about. Plus, every recipe I’ve tried is an recipe I’ve absolutely fallen in love with. From the rich and earthy Porcini Mushroom Soup (which I’m making for dinner tonight, by the way) to the reimagined Mushroom Casserole of our mothers’ to the TLT – remedy for the days when all I want is a bacon sandwich and I need to behave myself.

However, in our household, this recipe takes the cake. It wins out over just about everything else I could make: even recipes that take more time, are more complicated, use more exotic ingredients (or more cheese).

You can link to Heidi’s website here, or to the right among the list of food blogs I adore and stalk and drool over. Below, I’ve reproduced the recipe as I make it, but I encourage you to visit her page with the original recipe. Along with stellar recipes, you’ll find beautiful photography and insightful writing, along with links to her two cookbooks – one of which isn’t released … and I’m getting antsy for it!

Anyway, this is a very simple soup, and therefor requires the highest quality of ingredients and special attention to salt and flavor balance. This also could be done very quickly by skipping the step where you simmer the garlic in the broth. I do it just because garlic always makes me feel better, and as I’ve said, this is my “recovering health and clarity” recipe.

Orzo Soup

7 cups good quality vegetable broth (I recommend homemade)
5-10 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed, but otherwise relatively whole

1 1/2 cups orzo (I’ve also used rice and quinoa, but I’ve precooked them)
3 cups fresh spinach
4 egg whites

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
14 oz (canned is fine) diced, fire roasted tomatoes
Red pepper flakes, to taste
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Salt

Parmesan, grated, to finish

Bring your vegetable broth to a boil and add garlic cloves. Drop the heat down to a simmer, cover and let the broth simmer away and extract all the flavor from the garlic cloves. I usually allow 45 minutes to an hour, but as I said above, you can totally skip this step if you’re in a time crunch. Simply leave the garlic out entirely.

If you do take this step, after your 45 minutes to an hour is up, fish out the cloves with a slotted spoon and discard. Bring the broth back up to a boil and add your orzo, cooking until tender. When it’s cooked through, stir in the spinach.

While the orzo is cooking, combine in a small sauce or saute pan, heat the tomatoes, red pepper flakes and smoked paprika with a splash of olive oil.

Just before serving, slowly whisk in the egg whites into the simmering soup – they’ll look almost like ragged leaves, such as you’d find in egg drop soup (which essentially this is). Taste your salt and adjust if needed. I mentioned above that salt is key here. Add a bit at a time until the flavor of the soup is bright and refreshing.

Ladle the soup into bowls, and top with a spoonful or two of the tomato mixture and a dusting of parmesan. Now – and here is a key to why I love, love, love this soup – add a thin drizzle of olive oil around the bowl and/or over the tomatoes. Not TOO thick, but enough to have a visible golden thread around the bowl. This adds a rich, velvety dimension with a beautiful bright, strong flavor to each spoonful. You might be tempted to leave this out … but I’m telling you right now that you will thank yourself for adding it.

Yum!

Deceptively simple, and deceptively freaking delicious. One of the reasons I chose to post this today is because it was Matt’s request for Valentine’s Day dinner. Neither of us are big “V-Day” people, as I don’t expect shiny things and he doesn’t expect to have to take me out. We just enjoy an evening together and I offered to cook. Bam! Orzo Soup request.

Edit: When I mentioned it’s variable, thats because you can tweak this to suit all kinds of needs. I’ve added tofu to it for a bit more protein kick, sometimes mushrooms. To the tomatoes, I sometimes leave off the paprika, add some peppers or some chili sauce. I’ve also used cooked rice or quinoa in place of the orzo. You could swap the spinach for chard, sauteed bok choy or kale (mmmmm! kale!). Just some thoughts!

Make it, and you’ll find in front of you a big bowl of nice, warm, almost creamy comfort. Vegans, feel free to leave off the eggs. You’ll have a different dish, but it’s still very good. I also always love that this isn’t too heavy. It’s just right. And, as I said … great with a good sandwich. Maybe it’s time for a TLT? Yes?

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