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Soup--Mighty Conqueror of the Cold

February 15, 1996|BETTY ROSBOTTOM

What joyous feasting winter brings, what benign satisfaction! The senses purr with delight. It is a cozy feeling to partake of good living that triumphs over the cold!

--James Beard

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I have always loved this quote from the introduction to the chapter "Winter" in the "Four Seasons Cookbook" published 25 years ago. It describes perfectly the spirit of this particular season. Winter weather encourages us to seek the comforts of warming foods. A perfectly cooked pot roast, an aromatic curry, a loaf of bread just taken from the oven, a cup of steaming hot chocolate are among the enticing foods suited to stave off the cold.

Soup served piping hot is a favorite of the winter kitchen because nothing is more tempting or satisfying. Although this soup makes a fine opener, it could also be offered as the main course with a salad for a luncheon or light dinner. It is ideal for entertaining because it can be made a day ahead and needs only to be rewarmed and assembled.

SPINACH SOUP WITH FONTINA CROUTONS AND PROSCIUTTO

Olive oil

1 1/2 cups cleaned chopped leeks, white part only

1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach, trimmed and washed

6 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup rice

Salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups half and half

12 (1/4-inch-thick) slices French bread, cut on diagonal from 1 loaf, 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter

3/4 cup shredded Fontina cheese

4 to 5 thin slices prosciutto, coarsely chopped (1/3 cup)

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in large, heavy nonreactive pan over medium heat. When hot, add leeks and stir and cook until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add spinach and cook, stirring constantly, until wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Add stock, rice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and cayenne. Bring mixture to simmer. Reduce heat and cook, partially covered, until rice is tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove from heat. Puree soup in food processor, blender or food mill. Return to pan with half and half and heat through. Add more salt and cayenne pepper to taste if desired. (Soup can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Reheat, uncovered, when ready to serve.)

To prepare croutons, lightly brush both sides of bread slices with olive oil and place on baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees, turning once, until crisp and light golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and cool. Sprinkle cheese over tops of croutons. (If not using immediately, set aside at cool room temperature, loosely covered with plastic wrap, up to 2 hours.)

When ready to serve, heat 1/2 tablespoon or less olive oil until hot in small heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add prosciutto and cook, stirring, until crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Heat broiler and when hot, place baking sheet with croutons 4 to 5 inches from heat and watch constantly until cheese melts.

To assemble, ladle hot soup into 6 shallow bowls. Float 2 croutons in each bowl and sprinkle with prosciutto. Serve hot.

Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

451 calories; 1,544 mg sodium; 49 mg cholesterol; 23 grams fat; 42 grams carbohydrates; 19 grams protein; 1.48 grams fiber.

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