Broccoli Cheddar Soup is a consistent bestseller in many restaurants, such as Panera Bread. But people rarely make it at home. That surprises me, because the recipe is fairly simple. The secrets of success come in getting the proportions right for the perfect consistency, and preparing the broccoli in a way that doesn’t overcook it and retains its bright green appearance. I also like to add a little dry vermouth to round out the soup’s flavor.
3 cups broccoli florets, cut into pieces about 3/8 inch
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup finely chopped yellow onion
1½ cups half and half
1½ cups The Essential Homemade Chicken Stock (page 26), or good-quality canned chicken stock or broth
¾ cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup dry vermouth
Hot sauce, such as Cholula (optional)
Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and water and place it near the sink. In a large saucepan or stockpot, bring lightly salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli florets and cook just until the stems are tender enough to pierce with a fork, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the broccoli and immediately submerge in the ice water.
In a separate stockpot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and sauté until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the flour and stir briskly with a wire whisk to form a smooth roux, 1 to 2 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high and, while whisking continuously, gradually pour in the chicken stock and half and half, continuing to whisk until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and whisk in the Cheddar cheese. Stir in the salt, pepper, and vermouth. Taste the soup and, if you like, add a few drops of hot sauce, tasting again.
Finally, drain the broccoli. Stir the florets into soup. Serve immediately, ladling the soup into heated bowls.