Copycat Panera Broccoli Cheese Soup
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 white onion, chopped
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups broccoli florets, coarsely chopped
1 cup carrots, matchstick-cut
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
2 1/2 cups Cheddar cheese, shredded
salt and ground black pepper to taste
- Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Saute onion in hot butter until translucent, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
- Whisk 1/4 cup melted butter and flour together in a large saucepan over medium-low heat; cook until flour loses it's granular texture, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of milk if necessary to keep the flour from burning, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Gradually pour milk into flour mixture while whisking constantly. Stir chicken stock into milk mixture. Bring to a simmer; cook until flour taste is gone and mixture is thickened, about 20 minutes.
- Add broccoli, carrots, sauteed onion, and celery; simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
Stir Cheddar cheese into vegetable mixture until cheese melts. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
DO NOT ADD the cheese at the end and hope for the best; that sometimes does not make the result you want, especially with stretchy cheeses or if the temperature is even a little off. Faster and easier: make a base white sauce (two tablespoons of butter, two of flour, mix at medium-low heat, when fully mixed, add two cups of milk or broth by quarter cups) or cornstarch mix and add all cheese by quarter cup to that so it melts together better into a medium thick liquid. Then at the end add your liquid cheese mix to the soup. You may need to thicken the soup after, but I've never had to; the cheese takes care of any excess liquid.
Stock: you can use pretty much any base stock here, so any good quality vegetable stock will work as well if not more so to make it vegetarian.
To make a heartier soup:
- add one cup of diced potatoes, cooked or partially cooked if possible (add 30 minutes to time if uncooked)
- add one can of mushrooms
- add one cup of any vegetable
You'll need to make some adjustment to the liquid ratio if adding anything, so:
- Add 1.5 to 2 cups of stock or milk for each cup of potatoes if uncooked. Start with 1 cup and watch carefully, adding halves as needed. Seriously though: cook the potatoes beforehand and don't worry about this mess. Just chop and microwave, it will make literally no difference, promise.
- Add 1 to 1.5 cups of stock or milk for each additional cup of vegetables, start with 1/2 cup and increase by quarters or halves as needed if desired.
- For spinach, add 1 cup of stock for each cup of spinach
- For mushrooms, add only 1/2 cup per cup at most
- To keep thickness, you can either use cornstarch (see directions on box) or create basic cream sauce base with two tablespoons of flour and two of butter in a separate pan for each additional cup of broth or dairy. Mix and let thicken in separate pan before adding to main dish.
I recommend highly front loading this soup with more vegetables/stuff. It takes it very, very well and gives much more and better flavor and is very, very filling.
Meat is not recommended. It's not bad or anything, but it adds nothing to the soup at all.
This is my favorite part.
Mix this shit up. Literally any cheese mix will do; use it for your terrible cheese choices or leftovers or that quarter inch of Parmesan at the bottom of the container that's too solid to use but you can't throw away. This soup benefits tremendously from using multiple cheeses; with just the cheddar, it's good, but multi-cheese jumps it a level. I literally store leftover cheeses for this.
Easy rule of thumb: if getting rid of a cheese too sour, match it using Monterey Jack, Brie, Muenster, something mild. If very bitter, Colby, Colby Jack, or mild cheddar, mix with a small amount of American. Swiss is always a good leavener for blandness and can tone down too-strong cheeses (yeah, who knew?). Oaxaca is similar to Monterey but better, to be honest; if you can get it, use it instead. Gruyere can be used to tone down overstrong swiss but perk up any blandness. Havarti can be used anywhere, but like most soft and mellow cheeses, it needs sharper friends added with soups.
The soup will support up to 3.5 cups of cheese without necessarily needing to add more liquid. Mostly in this case, just watch and add broth or milk if there's too much solidification, but that's going to be a matter of taste.
Freezing and Storage
Once the cheese is added, this soup does not generally benefit from freezing. If you're making this ahead of time for storage, add everything but the cheese and you'll be fine. Refrigerate to the limit of safety; when rewarming, recommend stove not microwave; cheese can and will try to lump but if you microwave low and open to stir semi-frequently, you should be okay. Ideally, rewarm slowly at low to low-middle.
If you do freeze it with cheese, do not microwave; put it in a pot at very low heat, let it slowly slowly slowly warm up, stir frequently to avoid lumping. In other words, yes, it's possible to freeze with cheese and be fine, but it's a lot more work, especially depending on the cheese mix you used. It desperately wants to lump.
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