Big Little Recipes

3-Ingredient Broccoli Cheese Soup–Can You Guess the Third?

February 23, 2021

A 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!


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.

Photo by ROCKY LUTEN. PROP STYLIST: AMANDA WIDIS. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG.

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?

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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Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles on the fly, baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., and writing about the history of pie in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's award-winning column, Big Little Recipes (also the cookbook in October 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

3 Comments

Diane February 27, 2021
Delicious - a keeper for sure. And for being almost zero-carb, it's very filling! I can see why a very sharp cheddar was instructed, I didn't have extra sharp but a quick squeeze of fresh lemon juice balanced it out beautifully. Thank you for sharing, I can't wait to make it again!
 
Veggie A. February 23, 2021
Genius, indeed! This is brilliant and gorgeous! I can’t wait to try this recipe.
 
Bonnie February 23, 2021
This looks amazing! Just love the idea of the frico florets. Can’t wait to try this.