Jalapeño Cheddar Soup

Ah, fall.  Labor Day festivities over, it’s finally time to embrace the fact that summer has finally drawn to a close.  Now is the time to embrace leaves turning color, a crispness to the air, a change in the light.  Fall is a time for flannel shirts, cooler days – and of course soup.

Of course here in SoCal that’s all mostly a fantasy; it’ll be triple digits – or at least mid-90s – most days here through at least Halloween, if not Thanksgiving.

But that isn’t going to stop me from making soup.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time in a town called Big Bear up in the mountains of the San Bernardino National Forest, where autumn came early up at elevation and you could almost forget that you were only a couple hours away from the screaming urban sprawl that is Los Angeles.  My wife and I frequented a restaurant up there called Madlon’s (now closed) which was run by a couple of Cordon Bleu trained chefs.  Their food was amazing.  One of the best things on the menu was their Jalapeño Cheddar Soup.  The chef-owners of the restaurant, Rob and Chelsea, became friends and they were generous enough to share their recipe with me.

The recipe that they gave me was designed to make about 5 gallons of the stuff, so I’ve adapted it here for the home kitchen.  I share it here with their permission and with gratitude for their generosity.

Time:  90 minutes
Cost:  About $15 (for the whole pot)
Difficulty:  Easy

Ingredients:

  1.  2 tablespoons bacon fat, clarified butter, or regular unsalted butter
  2.  2 tablespoons olive oil
  3. 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  4. 3 ribs celery, diced
  5. 3 jalapeño peppers, minced, seeds and ribs removed
  6.  2 cloves garlic, minced
  7.  2 8oz cans tomato sauce
  8.  1.5 cups dry white wine
  9.  16oz grated cheddar cheese
  10.  2 tablespoons cornstarch + 2 tablespoons cold water
  11.  Approximately 1 pint heavy cream (to taste preference)
  12. 1 teaspoon white-wine vinegar or sherry vinegar

Instructions

  1.  In a heavy-bottomed sauté pan or large skillet, melt fat and oil over medium high heat.  Add onion, celery and jalapeños and sweat until onions are translucent and celery and jalapeños are soft, 3-5 minutes.  Add garlic and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until very fragrant, 1-2 minutes more.
  2.  Add white wine and deglaze the pan
  3.  Add tomato sauce and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Cover (or mostly cover) and allow soup to simmer 30 minutes until vegetables are very tender and flavors have developed.
  4.  Using an immersion blender, purée the contents of the pot until very smooth
    1.   NOTE:  Make sure the head of the immersion blender is fully submerged before turning it on, unless you like hot soup explosions.
    2.   NOTE:  You can purée the soup in batches in a regular blender, but be careful.  Make sure that (1) you don’t fill the blender more than half way and (2) make sure that you leave adequate venting at the top of the blender.  If you don’t the steam will create a pressure monster and hot soup will be all over your kitchen in a hurry.  Most blenders have a removable stopper in the lid.  I recommend removing this and covering the hole with a kitchen towel.
  5. Once the soup is puréed, transfer soup to a small stock-pot or large saucepan.  Bring to a simmer and stir in cheese.  Allow cheese to fully melt, stirring occasionally.
  6.  Stir in heavy cream, a little at a time, until desired texture and color is achieved.  Return to a simmer.
  7. If the soup still isn’t thick enough (which it probably won’t be), add a slurry consisting of 2 tablespoons cornstarch and 2 tablespoons cold water.  Add and stir to thicken.
  8. Remove soup from heat and stir in vinegar.
  9. Serve with grilled cheese, crusty bread, or enjoy on its own.

 

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