Ahhh, Panera Broccoli and Cheese soup. Loved by so many, with one very special nugget in particular who goes nuts for it…my niece Lillie, AKA, ‘Lillie Bug’. As much as I love that booger, she’s one heck of a picky eater, so when my sister finds something that she likes, she tries to recreate it at home for her so that she actually eats something.
On one of our trips to FL, we all decided to run into a Panera for a quick bite to eat. I about fell out of my chair when I saw my niece (who would live off of oatmeal and cheese sandwiches if she were allowed) order (and polish off) an entire bowl of Broccoli Cheese soup!
So while I would LOVE nothing more than to make that soup for her, I refuse to feed her a bowl full of cups of butter, heavy cream and cheese…uhhh, nope! However, being the cool Aunt that I am, I decided to create my own version using heart healthy vegetable broth, only a couple tablespoons of butter, FAT FREE half and half (*gasp*), and only a fraction of the cheese. Trust me on this; you won’t miss ANY of the added fat and calories. With a whopping 5 cups of broccoli, sweet carrots, onions…this is a healthier version of a hug in a bowl – one that you can feel good about serving your loved ones.
Lillie Bug, this one is for you! Xoxo!
Fat Free Vegetable Broth, Fat Free Half and Half, Broccoli florets, Onion, Carrots, Garlic, Flour, Unsalted Butter, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Smoked Paprika, Ground Mustard, Salt, Pepper, Sugar, Cayenne Pepper and of course Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese.
If you have a food processor, by all means, use it to shred those carrots up! I’m just lazy and don’t want to wash all the parts of my food processor, so I just whip out my old box grater and go to town, grating two peeled carrots and set aside.
Melt 1 TBS of butter and 1 TBS of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a heavy bottomed pot (I like using enameled cast iron pots when I make my soups) over med heat, and sauté onions for about 3 minutes, or until softened and translucent. Then add salt and pepper to taste and 1 scant tsp of sugar, stir.
Then add the grated garlic, cooking it for about 1 minute, then add all of the grated carrots. At this point, I like to re-season with a little more salt and pepper – why? Because where I buy my carrots, they don’t come seasoned J So add more salt and pepper to taste and another ½ tsp of sugar. Trust me on this – it won’t be a sweet soup, but it does bring out the sweetness in the onions and carrots. Cook, stirring from time to time, for another couple of minutes.
Now, switching to a WHISK, and pour in the Vegetable Broth (WHILE WHISKING), ‘cause ain’t nobody got time for lumps! Whisk well, scraping up anything that might have gotten stuck to the bottom of the pan.
Once it’s all incorporated, turn up the heat, and cook another 5 minutes, or until it comes to a strong simmer/low boil then whisk in the Dry Mustard, Smoked Paprika, and Cayenne and let it cook for another 5 minutes. Meanwhile…
Grate your cheddar cheese. I know what you’re thinking, “GRATE my cheese?! Why would I ever grate cheese when they have bags of pre-grated cheese at the store?!!” The answer is simple – the higher quality cheese you use (i.e. the most flavor), the less cheese you will have to use. Trust me on this! And besides, your grater (or food processer) is already out, why not use it again?!!! Oh…and try not to eat all of the cheese like I tend to do!
When you’re done grating and chopping, add the half and half, while whisking and simmer for about 15 minutes. You will see a film on top of the soup, which is totally normal. Just keep your whisk nearby and give it a little stir from time to time.
Now add all of the chopped broccoli florets, another tsp of salt (again, seasoning as you go) and give it a stir. Then cover and lower the heat to the lowest setting and let it cook for another 10 minutes.
Lillie Bug’s Broccoli and Cheese Soup
– 5 C Chopped Broccoli Florets (for me, it was the florets from 2 ‘heads’ of broccoli)
– 1 med yellow onion, minced
– 2 Carrots, peeled then shredded on the large holes of a box grater
– 1 large Garlic Clove, grated on a microplane or finely minced
– 3 TBS Unsalted butter, divided (1 TBS + 2 TBS)
– 2 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil, divided (1 TBS + 1 TBS)
– 3 TBS All-Purpose Flour
– 1 to 1 ½ tsp sugar, divided (1 tsp + ½ tsp)
– 1 quart (32 oz) Fat Free Vegetable Broth (I like Trader Joes)
– 2 C Fat-Free Half and Half (I like Land O’ Lakes – super creamy with no fat)
– 8 oz grated Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese plus extra for serving (I LOVE Trader Joe’s ‘Unexpected’ White Cheddar Cheese. It’s SOOO yummy with a strong, sharp flavor…and only a couple of bucks to boot! If you use something else, you might need to use a little more.
– ½ tsp Smoked Paprika
– ½ tsp Dry Mustard Powder (you can sub 1 tsp Dijon Mustard)
– pinch of Cayenne
*Salt and Pepper to taste
* I find that many times, the difference between a recipe that turns out great and one that turns out ‘meh’, has a lot to do with seasoning. While you don’t want to use a TON of salt in a recipe, you want to use enough. Depending on the brand of cheese, half and half and stock you use, you may have to add more or less, so taste as you go. If you feel like it needs a little something, don’t be scared to add another sprinkling of salt.