Simmer down with comforting fall soups

Photo by Michael Cummo

Once the temperatures drop, we instantly start craving steaming-hot soups, stews, and chowders, especially here in New England. Although the month of October seemed like an extension of summer, November has arrived, with its chilly nights and threats of snow. So pull out the slow cookers, the Dutch ovens, and the stockpots, because it’s time to start making soup. We’ll also explore the Island in search of some of the best soup offerings during the off-season, as well as giving you some tips and tricks from Island chefs.

Chefs’ favorites

Jan Burhman of Kitchen Porch Catering tells us that this time of year, she loves roasting butternut squash — both for dinner, and as preparation for soup. “It’s easy and nourishing,” she says. Ms. Buhrman starts most of her soups by gently sautéing two onions or leeks in butter or coconut oil and sprinkling in curry powder and minced ginger (interchanging spices depending on desired flavor). Then she adds her favorite stock and stirs in roasted squash, letting it simmer for 10 minutes. A quick pulse in the blender creates a smooth, seasonal soup.

Chef Jeremy Davis of The Port Hunter says his all-time favorite soup to make is an aromatic blend of spices and fresh herbs. “I make a fantastic red and green curry broth using fragrant lemongrass and rich coconut milk,” he says. By sautéing the curry paste with his favorite seasonal vegetables and housemade broth, he creates a base that he then uses alongside fresh seafood like mussels. The secret behind a great soup, according to Mr. Davis, is “it either has the property to warm you up or cool you down.”

For Chef Christian Thornton of Atria, “Nothing is better than matzo ball soup. The smells and memories it evokes in me are amazing.” When you visit the restaurant on Main Street in Edgartown, you’ll notice he keeps the matzo ball soup at home and creates gorgeous, silky-smooth soups for his customers. His current favorite? Oven-roasted butternut squash soup with curry crème fraîche and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Good Taste recommendations

My recommendations, based on generous amounts of soups I’ve consumed in the past five years of living on the Island, are solely based on flavors. Be sure to check them out if you can:

In Edgartown, try the French onion soup at The Newes Pub. It’s broth-based, with a hint of sherry wine that pairs perfectly with its topping of bread and three varieties of cheeses. It’s the perfect way to warm up on a chilly day, especially by the fireplace at The Newes, a perfect winter spot.

In Oak Bluffs, stop by Offshore Ale and check out their daily soup special, always a fantastic lunch option. Offshore’s annual promotion of “Buy 5 lunches, get the 6th free” runs now through May 2015.

In Vineyard Haven, try the hot and sour soup at Copper Wok when you’re craving mainland Asian flavors. This soup is extremely hearty, and although the broth is light, it’s packed with cabbage, bamboo shoots, black mushrooms, bell peppers, and a hint of Chinese vinegar to balance it all out. Another don’t-miss spot in Vineyard Haven is Tisberry, the frozen-yogurt shop, which also serves up a variety of daily specials of fresh soups, including but not limited to Southwestern vegetable and chicken, sweet Italian sausage, mulligatawny, ginger carrot artichoke, pasta fagioli, and sweet corn chowder.

Up-Island, try the lobster bisque at Larsen’s Fish Market when all you need is a creamy, luscious soup packed with fresh, sweet lobster meat. Be careful: This one is addictive. Even if you live down-Island, this bisque will have you making the trek to Menemsha more than once a week.

Whether you decide to try some of the local offerings or are inspired to try making your own soups at home, you’ve got a bounty of seasonal produce to choose from at local farms and markets. North Tabor Farm has harvested some gorgeous sweet potatoes, and Morning Glory Farm always has vibrant cooking greens, perfect for soups and stews.

Soup-making tips and tricks

  • Create a “stock bucket”: When cooking, save the ends and scraps of vegetables in a bucket in your fridge. By the end of the week, you’ll have enough to throw in a pot, cover with water, and simmer to make homemade vegetable stock. If you’re saving bones from a roast chicken to make chicken stock, freeze the bones until you have enough to make stock.
  • Taste and season as you go, but remember that the more you reduce your soup, the saltier it will become, so check your salt toward the end. Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt adds great depth of flavor to any soup.
  • Bust out that slow cooker! It’s perfect for throwing in stock and vegetables, as well as whatever protein you’ve got; it will do the cooking for you.
  • Living a dairy-free lifestyle, but craving a creamy soup? Use puréed potatoes (regular or sweet potatoes) or whisk in a slurry (cornstarch and water) to add a creamy texture.
  • Always make a double batch of soup — it freezes nicely, and provides you with meals when you’re not up for cooking.