Sean Beckwith: Soup-scorn
Inspiration can strike at any time as far as column ideas go. Like Jerry Seinfeld trying to make out a joke he wrote down while half-asleep, though, the key is to remember the actual inspiration. This week, my inspiration comes from an ingredient in my pantry that inspired a dish and thusly inspired this column. However, that ingredient is still staring at me when I grab a snack, baiting me to dance with the devil again.
That ingredient is soup crackers. If you regularly read The Lit Life, you’d assume that, like Sideshow Bob with Bart Simpson, tourists are my only nemeses. However, like Sideshow Bob and rakes, I have two recurring foes: 1a is tourists, 1b is soup.
Now, if you’re saying, “Sean, how could you hate soup? It’s so good,” I don’t have time or the word count to go into every little detail of why soup sucks, but here’s a quick bullet-point list:
-It’s not filling, and because of that, it should never be the answer to “What’s for dinner?”
-Most of the time it’s glorified meat water, the rest of the time it’s glorified vegetable water.
-It’s poor people food. That sounds awful, but it’s true. There’s a reason why we have soup kitchens and not duck a l’orange kitchens.
-That weird coarse texture beans or turkey takes on after too long in broth.
-Undercooked/overcooked vegetables. If you have to put in spinach at the last minute because you don’t want to overcook it, what are you supposed to do when you reheat it?
My approaches to soup are two-fold: It has to be either a dipping condiment for a grilled cheese or one of the best versions of soup. What qualifies as best, I don’t know. It’s like being the best hipster. Is there even such a thing as a good hipster?
That said, my girlfriend likes soup so it would be selfish to ban a dish; it’s like banning sandwiches. (Although, if you don’t like sandwiches, we wouldn’t work in the first place, but Caitlin likes sandwiches, so we’re good.)
Also, I have enough respect for chefs when they fawn over the perfect soup that it kind of makes me want to try to get into soup. I took their advice on mushrooms, and now I love those.
So, back to the soup crackers. We have a large bag of the oyster crackers you use for chowders and other soups I can’t readily list. There were still a lot of crackers leftover from the clam chowder that I made that was OK/very rich. It ended up getting thrown out/not finished because reheating a gelatinous blob of soup — another reason soup is gross — is about as unappetizing a process as there is. It’s second only to cleaning the pot you used to make soup. (You know that slimy residue that coats your sponge? Same texture as cleaning up puke.)
Now, I hate wasting food almost to my own detriment. I may or may not have gotten sick from eating expired hummus, so naturally I want to get rid of these crackers. Also, I saved some parmesan rinds because I heard you can use them for cooking, primarily in soups. (Go figure, one person’s trash is another person’s soup.)
After perusing the internet for recipes, we decided that Italian wedding soup sounded good. It has a lot of things we enjoy — carrots, onion, celery, pasta, parmesan, meatballs — so how bad could it be?
The thing about cooking soup is … I don’t. I’m also unsure as to why people spend so long making soup. Tom Colicchio would have you believe it’s to “build flavor.” I think it’s because you’re a sucker. If something takes more than a day to cook, it better be because ribs need to marinate overnight.
I spent a good portion of Monday making this cantankerous pot of soup — finely chopping veggies because big chunks of undercooked carrots or celery are for savages, forming and searing off meatballs, other dumb shit. Ten minutes out it smells great, five minutes out same thing, one minute out — according to the recipe — I plop the spinach in to finish.
I take out a meatball to makes sure it’s cooked through; still pink, almost purple. Give it five more minutes, still looks off. Ten more minutes, 20 more minutes, 25 more minutes, and they still look underdone.
Caitlin has a bowl, nuking the meatballs because at this point it’s almost 8 p.m. She finishes, cleans her bowl. I’m over it. I clean the kitchen, cursing this damn soup the entire time, barely even try a bite.
Later, after Caitlin’s insistence (as well as patience with me and my soup-induced foul mood) that I’m too hard on myself and maybe I should ask my chef sister what went wrong, I send out a text.
“I’m sure they were cooked. Was it pork? It tends to stay pink” is the reply. So at about 10:30, I nuke a bowl of this soup, overcooked spinach, pasta and all. It was delicious. I finished the entire bowl, something I never do.
Regardless, I’m not making soup ever again. … Oh shit, I forgot to use those soup crackers.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.