There are certain ingredients that reel me in immediately. They turn this indecisive girl into a real go-getter. Sometimes these dishes aren’t vegetarian, so I need to be the girl who orders, “The chicken penne without the chicken” just so I can get the herb goat cheese, or the roasted tomatoes, or the artichoke hearts. Artichokes especially, with their buttery layers, disarm me entirely. I use them at home frequently, but often without variation or creativity. For me, artichokes add to the old standards: pizzas, dips, or that chicken penne recipe without the chicken. One Saturday morning a few weeks ago an episode of Giada at Home rocked my world with a recipe for puréed artichoke soup with fresh mint and lemon. Puréed artichokes? That’s crazy, but brilliant. In my artichoke trance, I decided I needed to give the recipe a try.
Being a somewhat superficial food lover, I had some qualms about this soup’s appearance. Artichokes usually add visual appeal to dishes, but an artichoke puree mixed with spinach results in something very…green. But not a vibrant, beautiful green…kind of a dulled, yellowish green. While I knew I’d have to come to terms with a less-than-beautiful dish, it was clear the superficial part of me would need to act in some way.
To add to my need for slight adjustments in appearance, I knew I’d need to give the soup a bit of “oomph” to overcome the boy’s internal struggle over eating a bowl of puréed vegetables. To help us both, I made just a few adjustments to Giada’s recipe. As the soup simmered, I baked bread into buttery, crunchy croutons to give some aesthetic, yummy appeal. Since thyme has a lemony flavor that mixes well with mint, I baked the croutons with thyme, and added a half teaspoon to the soup base to tie it all together. To make the soup more decadent, I added a scoop of creamy cheese, which melted easily into the otherwise nutrient-packed soup. With a plan to meet both our beauty and taste needs, I thawed my artichokes and prepared to fall back into my trance.
Artichoke Soup with Homemade Thyme Croutons
Adapted from the lovely Giada De Laurentiis’ “Artichoke Soup with Fresh Mint.”
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 celery stalks, chopped
- 2 leeks, chopped
- 2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, plus 1/2-1 cup more as needed
- 2 12-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
- 2 cups fresh spinach, packed
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
- 1/4 cup light cream cheese
- Lemon wedges
Homemade Thyme Croutons
- 2 slices bread (I used whole wheat, but use whatever you want. It’s your world!)
- Cooking spray
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Sprinkle of dried thyme
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the leeks, celery, thyme, salt and pepper. Stirring frequently, cook until the celery and leeks are soft (5-7 minutes).
Add the artichokes and 4 cups of the broth. Bring to a boil, and then cover and reduce the heat to low. Walk away while it simmers for 10-15 minutes.
While your soup simmers, get the croutons ready. Cut two pieces of sliced bread into cubes then combine in a bowl with olive oil, salt, and thyme, stirring to coat evenly. Spread the croutons on a baking sheet covered with cooking spray, and put in the oven for about 10 minutes. Use a spatula to intermittently stir the croutons so they will be evenly browned. Once they are as brown and toasty as you desire, take them out and set aside.
After your soup is done simmering, puree it in batches to ensure an even texture. If you fill your processor too high, not only could you have a mess, but you could also have some chunks in your otherwise smooth soup. Add the spinach and the mint to the last two rounds of processing.
Transfer the puréed soup back into the saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat, and stir in the cream cheese. Once the cheese is melted throughout, use broth to thin the soup to your preferred thickness (I ended up adding about 3/4 cup). Transfer the soup to bowls for serving, then top with a few croutons and some strips of chopped mint. Provide a lemon wedge on the side so each person can squeeze to their own liking.
This soup is wonderful, despite its less-than-attractive appearance. It’s thick and flavorful without being heavy. The cream cheese adds just the right bite, and a squeeze of lemon brightens the whole bowl. If you love artichokes like I do, you should definitely set your superficiality aside and go for it.
As I expected, the boy was skeptical while we were cooking. “So, this is just vegetables, huh? Just straight vegetables…puréed.” Exactly, which is why it needed a touch of cream cheese and some crunchy croutons on top. Once he had his first slurp he understood my vision. Simple, unattractive perfection.