When we are in Portland, Oregon and heading out on foot to dinner in town, Wildwood in the Northwest district is always at the top of our list of fave destinations. It’s a lovely mile walk, or if we are feeling exceptionally lazy, we can hop the streetcar almost to the front door. (You might have seen my earlier article on Wildwood titled, Sweet Briar Farms Pork Chop with Bodacious Corn Hush Puppies. Just looking at the photo of that amazing dish makes me go weak in the knees.)
What I love about this restaurant is well, EVERYTHING. We sit at the kitchen bar and watch enthralled as dish after inspired dish is constructed by the well orchestrated kitchen and then put onto the marble bar, oftentimes just inches from our twitching noses. It’s like watching a theatrical production. We take our sweet time looking over the ever changing, seasonal menu. If we stall long enough, we see some of the dishes the kitchen is preparing that night, which helps us decide what to order.
Executive chef, Dustin Clark, is always in the kitchen, usually manning the tandoori oven. It doesn’t seem to matter what evening or time we show up. The other chefs rotate, but he is always there, quietly, confidently manning the helm. After watching Wildwood’s What’s for Dinner video, I better understand why the wait staff is always so knowledgeable and engaged.
But you are probably wondering when I going to get to the Creamy Romaine Soup. Here’s the thing, I had never tried or even heard of this soup before we encountered it several weeks ago at Wildwood. Imagine–lettuce soup! It was a revelation. When I asked one of the chefs how they managed to pack so much color and flavor into it, he laughed and said, “We used a TON of romaine.”
When I created my own version of the soup this past week, I used 2 large heads of romaine. The result is flavorful and delicious but not as verdant green as Wildwood’s version. (If you want to try for that gorgeous green color, add one or two more heads of lettuce and let me know how that work’s out.) The color of my soup is a paler shade of green, but that gave me the impetus to add a fresh herb better swirl, which really spikes the flavor overall. Many thanks to Wildwood for inspiring this rendition.
Creamy Romaine Soup with Summer Herb Butter & Garlic Croutons
I often incorporate a coarsely chopped, fresh green sauce, chimichurri, gremolata, or herb butter into a creamy soup as a way to layer cooked and raw flavors. The fresh sauce provides vibrant color and flavor that lifts even the simplest soup to new heights. Together with the garlic croutons, there is plenty of contrast here to keep diners happily engaged all the way to the bottom of the bowl.
Summer Herb Butter
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup minced combined chives, parsley, and green onions
1½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
½ teaspoon fine sea salt, or more to taste
3 ounces fresh, 1-inch square French bread cubes, crust trimmed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, peeled, and pressed or chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium-large onion, peeled, trimmed, and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled, and pressed or chopped
2 jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded, deribbed, and minced
2 large heads of romaine lettuce, trimmed and coarsely sliced (20 ounces sliced)
handful Italian parsley (10 ounces)
3-4 green onions, chopped (1 ounce)
small handful of chives, chopped (1 ounce)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
5 cups chicken stock
1 cup cream
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, to taste
fine sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
freshly grated Parmesan cheese, optional
- To make the Herb Butter, in a processor fitted with the steel blade, chop the herbs and then add the butter. Pulse to thoroughly blend. Then add the lemon juice and salt, and pulse again to combine. Remove to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until needed. Bring to room temperature when you are ready to serve the soup.
- To make the Garlic Croutons, in a saute pan set over medium heat, melt the butter and toss in the bread cubes. Turn the cubes frequently to lightly brown all sides, adding the garlic and salt about half way through the browning process. Remove to a paper towels to drain. Reserve.
- To make the soup, in a large soup pot, melt the butter and add the onions. Cook slowly until softened but not browned, about 10 minutes, and then add the garlic and chiles. Cook slowly for another 2 minutes or so.
- Add the romaine and toss repeatedly until wilted, about 2 minutes.
- Add the parsley, green onions and chives.
- Add the flour and stir to distribute. Cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the stock and cream and stir constantly while bringing the soup to a simmer. Simmer slowly to blend the flavors, about 10 minutes.
- Remove the soup from the heat, let cool a bit and then either ladle it in batches into a blender and puree or use an immersion blender to puree in the pot. If you want a very smooth soup, put it through a triple mesh, conical chinoise or a food mill fitted with the fine disk.
- Return the soup to a clean soup pot and taste for flavor balance. Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste.
- To serve, reheat the soup to a simmer and then ladle it into soup bowls. Draw a spoonful of the Herb Butter very slowly in a circular fashion through the hot soup so that it melts onto the surface. Add a few croutons to the center of each bowl and a grating of Parmesan cheese if desired.
Makes about 8 cups soup; serves 4-6.