Three-ingredient broccoli cheese soup — can you guess the third?

The broccoli is our star, our lead, our Timothée Chalamet

By Emma Laperruque
February 27, 2021 7:29PM (UTC)
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Prop stylist: Amanda Widis. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. (Rocky Luten / Food52)

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Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. That means five ingredients or fewer — not including water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (like oil and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Psst, did you hear we're coming out with a cookbook? We're coming out with a cookbook!

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Albeit only two ingredients in name, broccoli cheese soup often includes a busload of backseat drivers, like onion, carrot, celery, potato, garlic, flour, cornstarch, vegetable or chicken stock, milk or cream or half-and-half, hot sauce, paprika, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg, and then some.

This Big Little Recipe doesn't. Because when your broccoli cheese soup is mostly broccoli and cheese, your grocery list is littler, and your bounty is bigger. The trick? Use both of these high-powered ingredients not once, but twice.

The broccoli is our star, our lead, our Timothée Chalamet. Most of it, including the stalks, is blanched until tender and happy-go-lucky green, then whooshed in a blender until satiny. The stalks are key because, once puréed into oblivion, they become our thickener, the role typically played by a roux, flour, cornstarch, or even potato. And they don't dilute the flavor along the way.

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The rest of the broccoli gets blasted in a scorching oven, becoming brashly charred, with crackly, frilly, Frito-like tops. Sprinkling these florets on top adds lots of crunchy chew to an otherwise smooth soup, not to mention a bam-pow-pow of broccoli flavor.

Now about that cheese: cheddar, white, the sharper the better. This is just as funky and tangy as it is melty and gooey, which means when you throw a handful into the blender along with the broccoli, you get a soup so lush and fondue-esque, it seems like it must have cream or at the very least milk, right? But it doesn't.

Even more cheddar gets sprinkled on top of the roasted broccoli. Thrown into the oven, the cheese goes from grated to melted to crispy like a cracker in a matter of minutes. A cheese cracker. A cracker made of cheese. Who doesn't want that?

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The only other ingredient you'll need is onions. Which, I have a hunch, anyone eating this won't be able to pinpoint. That's on purpose. Sautéed until sweet and soft, the onions aren't here to steal the show from the broccoli or the cheese. Much like chicken or vegetable stock, they serve as a cozy foundation, a savory backdrop, a way to round out the soup and make you think that you're eating something with a busload of ingredients. Even though you're not.

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Recipe: Crispy Broccoli Cheese Soup

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 pounds yellow onions (about 2 medium plus 1 large), diced
  • Neutral oil (such as canola or grapeseed)
  • 2 pounds broccoli (about 2 large or 4 medium heads)
  • Kosher salt
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar, grated

Directions:

  1. Heat the oven to 450°F.
  2. Pour a glug of oil into a stockpot set over medium heat. Add the onions and a big pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally and lowering the heat if needed, until the pieces are soft, translucent, and beginning to brown, about 12 minutes. 
  3. Meanwhile, cut away the broccoli stalks' tough exteriors. Chop all the stalks into bite-size pieces and add these to a bowl. Chop what's left into bite-size florets; add half of these to the bowl and the other half to a rimmed sheet pan. 
  4. When the onions are ready, add 6 cups of water to the pot, along with a couple pinches of salt. Increase the heat to bring the water to a boil. 
  5. While the water is heating up, generously drizzle the broccoli florets on the sheet pan with oil and sprinkle with salt. Toss with your hands, then spread out the broccoli as much as possible. Roast for about 15 minutes, until the bottoms are deeply browned and the stalks are knife-tender.
  6. When the onion water reaches a boil, add the broccoli stalks and florets in the bowl. Boil until the water is golden in hue and the broccoli stalks are fork-tender, about 8 minutes. 
  7. Use a slotted spoon or spider to transfer the onions and broccoli from the stockpot to a blender. Blend until smooth. Add all but 1 cup of grated cheddar (we're using that in a bit) to the blender. Blend again. Add 2 cups of vegetable stock from the stockpot and purée again. You should have about 2 cups of stock remaining; add more to the blender if you want the soup thinner; otherwise, pour the leftover stock into a container and refrigerate or freeze for soupy situations down the road. 
  8. Pour the puréed soup into the emptied stockpot. If needed, set over low heat to stay warm. 
  9. When the roasted broccoli is ready, remove the sheet pan from the oven. Increase the oven to 475°F. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of grated cheese on top of the roasted broccoli florets. Return to the oven and roast until the cheese is lacey and deeply golden brown, about 5 minutes (you can rotate the sheet pan if needed for even cooking). Pull from the oven and let cool for a few minutes to slightly crisp. 
  10. Divide the soup into 4 bowls and evenly divide the crispy-cheesy broccoli florets on top.

Emma Laperruque

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