Hamburg Soup. I know, it sounds so pedestrian, but I assure you, it is really tasty.
This was one of my mom's go-to recipes. It afforded her the chance to clean out the fridge and all the other ingredients hailed from the pantry. Again, she did not care for cooking, so dried spices were de rigueur and the ease of this recipe from her best friend and my namesake, Colleen Kirby, made her heart sing (and my stomach growl in anticipation).
As I honed my cooking chops, I, too, came to appreciate this soup. Granted, I added crazy things like fresh chopped garlic, parmesan cheese rinds, spinach and barley, creating more of a rich stew that was filling and would freeze like a dream.
I can remember the first time I invited my dear friend Jackie over for dinner and served this particular dish. 100% full-blooded Italian, she was fairly horrified when I offered to ladle up some, but, when coupled with garlic-rubbed hot crostini for dipping, she was sold.
There it was, a giant Le Cruset Dutch oven, heating up on the stove, which by the way, was also my heat source in my North End apartment. Pretty sure these bad boys (shown below) are definitely not code today, but man, what an amazing cooktop.
My sweet avocado green Magee multi-purpose gas stove (heat source vents were on the right side). I can't believe I didn't die of CO2 poisoning.
Living in the North End of Boston, also known as the Italian section, I'd pick up all the ingredients from Boston's oldest outdoor market, Haymarket, located near Faneuil Hall Marketplace. My fresh ground beef, however, only came from Dominico Susi, he of the amazing head of hair and owner of Sulmona Meat Market on Parmenter Street, just off Salem Street.
Dom knows meat. Not only did I always get a perfect cut, mix or trim, but one Thanksgiving, he took my cooked cranberry sausage stuffing and made me the most beautiful stuffed turkey roll I'd ever seen. I cooked it on a bed of onions, then used the drippings and some broth to make a turkey onion gravy.
Handsome Dominico Susi and his mother. Image credit: Jessica Rinaldi, Boston Globe, October 26, 2015.
But back to Hamburger Soup. When the winter winds start to kick up, consider this low-effort, one-pot meal. I recommend using 1-2 pounds of beef, but if buying prepackaged burger, go with the heaviest one...and don't try to make it healthy by using 95%…opt for 80% at least, 70% at best. You want the natural fat of the meat rendered out and cooked in...this is what gives this quick soup depth and added flavor.
Except for the hamburger, this soup is all about using staples in your cupboard, freezer, veggie draw, etc. Easy, filling…truly the perfect comfort food. NOTE: if you save parmesan cheese rinds in your freezer, be sure to toss one in while the soup simmers. Calories: 250 per cup (not counting cheese topping).
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil (if I have it, I’ll use a bit of sundried tomato oil, too)
1 onion, chopped
4-5 ribs celery, chopped
2-3 carrots, chopped
1-2 pounds 85% hamburger
1-2 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
3+ tablespoon Italian seasoning (I like Morton & Bassett best)
1+ teaspoon garlic powder
1+ teaspoon onion powder
1+ teaspoon dried oregano
1+ teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (add to suit your own taste)
1 28 oz. can tomato purée
1 32 oz. beef broth
1 10 oz. box of frozen chopped spinach
1 10 oz. box of frozen corn
1 10 oz. box of frozen green beans
1/2-3/4 cup uncooked barley
Water as needed
Suggested Toppings: Shredded cheddar cheese, parmesan…crusty garlic bread on the side makes it the perfect one-pot meal.
Heat olive oil is a large Dutch oven. Add onion, celery and carrot. Cook until onion is translucent (about 5 minutes). Push veggies to edges and add hamburger. Break up, cooking until brown. Add tomato paste and garlic…heat through for a minute or 2 (until fragrant)…mix well with meat and veggies. Add purée and beef broth. Use a little extra water to rinse out purée in the can. Add frozen veggies and barley. Stir well.
Bring to a boil, then lower temp, letting soup simmer for 45-60 minutes. If too thick, add more water. Serve with cheese on top, crusty bread on side. Freezes fabulously.