Cold Weather? Perfect for Soup

All you really need to market and sell hot soup is a day of freezing cold weather. At Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, WV, soup is literally a warm welcome—the first thing chilly students see as they walk into the main dining hall.

“It’s been really cold, and having the soup station near the entrance is a great way to sell it,” Scott Anderson, associate director/executive chef at Shepherd University, where, like much of the country this week, it’s been pretty frosty.

RECIPE: Cauliflower and Aged Cheddar Soup

Besides being perhaps the most warm and comforting of all comfort foods (hello, chicken soup when you’re sick), soup makes great financial sense in the onsite kitchen. Anderson likes to take some time on winter days to make what he and his team call “Walk-In Soup.”

“We joke around about it—I go into the walk-in and say, ‘What can we make into soup?’” Anderson says.  “It allows me to utilize at least two or three ingredients that might otherwise be thrown out. There may not be enough of something for a full production menu item, but I can get two or three gallons of soup out of it.”

From minestrone to potato chowder to vegan garden vegetable, the soups are flying out of the pots and doing double-duty as powerhouse takeout items during winter months, with 12 oz. and 16 oz. containers available.

The soup station’s proximity to the salad bar is an added draw. Customers can almost make their own soup with customization options from the salad bar. Think croutons, shredded cheese, chives and bacon, even extra vegetables.

Classic combos do very well, Anderson adds.

“We can’t serve tomato soup without also serving grilled cheese or clam chowder without crackers,” he says.

Familiar, Comforting Menu

At Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, NH, Ryan Costigan, school nutrition director, and Chef Jim McAden, both new to the school this year, are making soups from scratch, part of their shared philosophy of more whole foods in schools.

“I think the biggest thing is making everything from scratch, including soup,” McAden says. About 600 to 700 lunches are served every day in the school, which has an enrollment of about 1,200 students.

There is a different soup made every morning, on a 5-soup rotation each winter month. This month, it’s chili, tomato basil soup, chicken noodle soup, minestrone and clam chowder (the students all grew up on the east coast, literally on the shore, McAden says, so they are used to—and love—eating seafood.)

“The kids seem to like to have an idea of when to expect which soup,” Costigan says of the rotation style.

Beans for Health

Beans and lentils are another component of so many great winter soups. At the University of New Hampshire, Executive Chef Todd Sweet, CEC, finds that making a bean puree can mean less fat (cream) in the heartiest stick-to-your-ribs soups.

“The winter months are when I like to offer soups based on beans and lentils: after cooking them completely along with aromatics, I puree a portion of them with an immersion blender to add a rich, hearty texture.  Then it’s just a matter of finishing the soup with fresh herbs (dill goes surprisingly well), a bit of beer or vinegar to offset the “beany” flavor and maybe some chopped, cooked meat like sausage or a roasted meat.”

One such signature soup is on rotation all winter: Harvest Bisque (a corn chowder with Blue Hubbard Squash puree and a bright mix of herbs). Healthful, economical, and warm, the perfect thing for a winter day.