|Broccoli Cheddar Soup is pictured in an Artisan Bread Bowl|
I don't know about you, but I love me some Panera! They have yummy soups, salads, and sandwiches and it's a pretty good choice if you're eating out. I especially like their Pick 2 option where you can choose 1/2 sandwich and a bowl of soup, or 1/2 a salad and a bowl of soup, or 1/2 a sandwich and 1/2 a salad. Not to mention their yummy coffee drinks... or their chai lattes... or the iced green tea that is probably mostly sugar... YUM!
What I don't love is their price. You definitely pay a premium price for their product even though it's a chain and for two people to get a meal and a drink each, it's definitely not a cheap eating option! But it's goooooood... mmMmmm!
Anyway, a while back I realized that I'm quite capable of recreating some of our Panera favorites at home where it's a lot less expensive, we have leftovers, and I control everything that goes into the meal.
One of my favorite Panera copycat recipes is this Broccoli Cheddar Soup. I made it for the 3rd or 4th time this weekend and I think I've finally perfected the recipe. Not only is it good, but it's a snap to pull together!
Panera-like Broccoli Cheddar Soup
Adapted from Food Network via Amber's Delectable Delights
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups half-and-half
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups broccoli florets (about 1 head)
1 large carrot, grated
2 1/2 cups (about 8 ounces) sharp cheddar cheese*, shredded
Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 5-10 minutes. Whisk in the flour and cook until golden, 2 to 3 minutes, then gradually whisk in the half-and-half until smooth. Add the chicken broth, bay leaves and nutmeg, then season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, add the broccoli florets to a steamer basket and lay the grated carrot on top of that. Cover with a lid and steam until tender, about 5 minutes. Set to the side until soup has finished thickening.
Add the broccoli and carrot to the broth mixture and continue to simmer, about 15 minutes. Discard the bay leaves. Puree the soup in the pot with an immersion blender. I like to do this very carefully so that it does not get completely smooth. I just pulse the blender a few times so that some of the veggies get pureed into the soup and others remain in chunks. (If you do not have an immersion blender you can puree batches in a regular blender until you reach desired consistency; Return to the pot.)
Add the cheese to the soup and whisk over medium heat until melted. Add up to 3/4 cup water if the soup is too thick.
This soup also reheats well. I find that although I don't usually need to add additional water when I first make it, I do need to add a bit when reheating to thin it out.
*Note: When you are making a recipe where you want the cheese to melt into something, like this soup, you really need to use a block of cheese that you shred yourself rather than the pre-shredded, bagged kind. Pre-shredded cheese is coated with anti-caking agents to help it remain clump-free in the bag, which also keep it from melting smoothly! I grate our cheese right in the food processor with the grating blade and it hardly takes any time at all!