Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Hamburger Soup

In some parts of the country, it's still soup weather. Here in North Carolina, I'm happy to say we are having honeysuckle weather. Unlike the North, honeysuckle here in the South is not a bush. Instead, it is rampant, wild vines. If you live near a wood, like I do, the scent is heady and intoxicating, especially at dusk when it is a bit humid and breezless. The scent literally hangs in the air for hours. I wish I could sip the scent through a straw!

While I may not be able to sip the air, I can slurp on some good soup!

I had some ground beef, sausage and bacon that needed to be used up. I fickled around the kitchen and found some other needed ingredients for this hearty, flavorful soup that uses the simplest of ingredients one most likely has on hand.

As with most of my soup recipes, it's a bit of this and bit of that ... as should yours be, too. Don't omit the smoked paprika which imparts that wonderful, woodsy autumnal flair. The smoked chipotle powder is wonderfully pungent.

Feel free to add any frozen veggies you have on hand. I had some corn and peas, so I threw in a handful. If you want more of a "stew," add less water--more for a standard soup. And be sure to taste as you go along.

The first time I made it, I used the standard, tiny elbow macaroni. Don't. It's boring and does nothing theatrical or utilitarian. On subsequent trials, I used mini-shell macaroni. It was perfect to catch bits of beef and sausage and an errant pea or kernel of corn. It performed admirably.

Soups by their very nature are forgiving in their assemblage. The result is always warm and welcoming. A great lesson for all us to learn.

  • 1 pound ground meat, you decide. It could be half ground beef and half Italian sausage or 3/4 ground beef and 1/4 Italian sausage. I use ground chuck and go about 1/2 and 1/2, using a mild Italian sausage.
  • 1/3 cup (about) chopped bacon meat. Pull the meat from the fat.
  • 1 envelope dry onion soup mix
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 cup yellow onion, sliced and diced.
  • 1 cup carrot, sliced.
  • 1 cup celery, sliced and diced.
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup green bell pepper, diced.
  • Any frozen veggies you have on hand--about 1/2 cup (optional)
  • 1, 14 oz. can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes, juice and all
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon dried Italian spices, gently crushed
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • smoked chipotle powder, just a shake or two or three (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4-6 cups liquid, half water/half beef stock
  • Fresh-grated Parmesan for garnish*

Brown the ground meats. Drain and remove. Add the bacon, onion, celery, chopped garlic with just a drizzle of olive oil to a dutch oven or soup pot. Saute until wilted and the bacon has rendered its fat but is not crispy.

Add the cooked ground meats and stir. Sprinkle on the dried onion soup mix. Stir. Add the can of roasted tomatoes, the bell pepper, carrots, Italian spices and smoked paprika. Add your liquid and the soy sauce. Stir. Taste for salt and pepper.

Bring just to a boil. Reduce to low and simmer for about an hour, tasting every-once-in-awhile and adjusting your seasonings. Towards the end, sprinkle with a bit of the chipotle powder if desired, and stir.

To serve, ladle into bowls, grate on some fresh Parmesan and garnish with a few celery leaves.

*If you have an old rind of Parmesan, throw that into the pot as the soup simmers and remove before serving, unless it has totally dissolved.