Bowled OverLadle Up a Savory and Satisfying Meal With Soup
By Anita Doberman
Soup. Simple or complex, from scratch or from a can – perhaps more than any other food, it lifts our spirits as much as it nourishes our bodies.
The influence of this dish reaches beyond the culinary world; it’s part of our history and our culture. It is “prescribed” to the sick the world over. And soup serves as every grandmother’s first line of defense against colds and the flu, even inspiring the prolific series of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books.
Throughout the ages, soup has transcended social class and status and has been given to the young and the old, the wealthy and the poor, the sick and the healthy.
In fact, if soup were a person, it would be a Renaissance man – adaptive, versatile and loved by virtually everyone.
The Soup Scoop
The beginnings of soup predates recorded history, but we have evidence that prehistoric societies as early as the Neolithic Era, circa 6000 B.C., consumed it throughout the Mediterranean region. As soon as mankind could build a fire and fashion a pot, broths were an easy way to squeeze every last drop of nutrition from scraps of meat and bone, and from vegetables best eaten cooked.
Residue sticking to pots attests to humanity’s consumption of soup during the subsequent Iron and Bronze ages. The ancient Greeks also were familiar with it. Aristophanes, the Athenian satirist, talks about it in his play “The Frogs,” in which the god Dionysus asks, “Did you ever feel a sudden urge for soup?”
The ancient Romans had a taste for soup as well, including a type of fish broth cooked in wine and spices. The Byzantine and Ottoman empires also made use of it and, based on surviving manuscripts from the Middle Ages, we know that soup was consumed throughout England, France, Italy and Catalonia (now part of Spain).
It was during the Middle Ages that the “sop” (bread soaked in broth, stock or wine), the predecessor of soup as we know it today in the West, became readily available and consumed by both the lower classes and the nobility. The word “soup” derives from the Latin verb suppare and noun suppa, literally meaning “to soak.” During this time, spoons were not used and bread was an integral part – if not the main constituent of – the meal. Soup consumed with a spoon and as a common main dish is a more recent development, getting its start in 18th-century France.
In the New World, the American colonists relied on soup both when traveling and when settled. As the nation grew and became the land of immigrants, every cultural group added its own spice, often literally, with a dizzying array of culinary flavors from every corner of the globe.
Simmer Down at Home
There are countless types of soup available today. Starting from soup that is made from scratch with boiled bones to make the stock to canned and microwaveable soups, the list is endless. Everyone has canned soup on occasion – but if you want to enjoy unique flavors, the Emerald Coast offers delicious options.
“In the summertime, chowders and bisques are very popular,” said Chef Dennis Weber of Zampieri’s Harbor Grille in Destin. He stressed that the secret to making great-tasting soup is in mastering good technique. Whether it’s a stock or an elaborate minestrone, for example, a chef must focus on each step carefully.
“Nowadays, chefs have a purpose and point behind a soup that they want to get across,” Weber said. “There can be total disaster if you forget one step in the preparation. It’s about flavor building.”
And there is plenty of flavor in the lobster bisque Weber prepares – one of the most requested items on the Harbor Grille menu.
Chef Tim Creehan, owner and executive chef of Beach Walk Café in Destin, agrees with Weber that seafood-based soups are popular in our area.
“Soup is a creative invention,” said Creehan, who has written two cookbooks, “Flavors of the Gulf Coast” and “Simple Cuisine.”
“As an artist uses reds, yellows and blues for a base to create a world of rainbows,” Creehan writes. “I employ stocks as essential ingredients in most culinary creations. A strong foundation in the preparations of stocks is vital in order to create interesting sauces, flavorful consommés, gumbos and bisques.”
With this level of expertise and creativity, it’s no wonder that the creations from local fine restaurants are so well received.
“Seafood-based, lobster and seafood bisque, seafood gumbo, and our all-time-favorite and best seller, smoked tomato and shrimp, are very popular,” Creehan said.
Whether you choose to improvise or follow a recipe – or just order it off the menu – soup is sure to satisfy your senses. It is not only rich in flavor but in history, and like so many things on the Emerald Coast, soup’s pleasures always are close at hand.
Pick up a copy of the latest Emerald Coast Magazine to find recipes from Chef Dennis Weber and Chef Tim Creehan.