Souping for the Seasons

Chef Michael Ponzio, member of the 2017 Smithfield Chef Advisory Board, talks about using the new Roasted and Seared® Chicken product in seasonal soup dishes throughout the year.

Chef Michael Ponzio grew up in an Italian household, where he learned to cook at a young age. After completing culinary school at Kendall College, he went on to work at some of Chicago’s most well-known restaurants, including Spiaggia, Volare, Rosebud and Luigi’s House. He’s even had the honor of cooking for politicians and celebrities! Currently, he is the Executive Chef at the prestigious Medinah Country Club located in the Chicago suburbs.

I am a soup fanatic. Be it a hearty warm stew or a silky bisque, nothing can compare to the reminiscent feeling I get when I sit down to a bowl or two.

Since the beginning of time, soup has been a staple in households around the world. Peasants would add bread to a brothy soup and turn it into a meal to feed their families. When kings and queens were eating tender, center cut meats, their servants were taking the leftover tough muscle cuts and cooking them for extended periods of time into meaty stews. These are the origins of real soups. This is why soup became a necessity in homes and the reason it is such a warm and soulful meal.

In recent times, soup has transformed into many different applications. It can be an elegant starting course in a tasting menu, a combination with a sandwich for a light lunch, or an outright meal. “Souping” was rated the number one diet trend of 2016 by several publications and is strongly moving into the dining scene in 2017. The question we as chefs constantly ask ourselves is, “How can we make this dish better?”

As our diners become more educated, they are in search of different ideas and presentations. Our new generation of diners are more often enjoying soup as an entire meal instead of the first course it’s been considered in the near past. So how do we balance uniqueness and familiarity? How do we give our diners a new experience, but still preserve the comfort and beauty associated with soup? Let’s start with the facts about soup.

The fastest growing and most popular soups right now are chili, chicken noodle soup and bean based soups. The increasingly popular ingredients to incorporate into a soup now are chicken, tomatoes, pasta noodles and cheese. The largest soup consuming demographic in restaurants are males between the ages of 25-34. This is because our new generation of diners are looking for alternatives that are both fast and affordable. Value is an important part of the meal decision for today’s diners.
As the interests of our diners change, we need to adapt. This does not mean we need to reinvent ourselves as chefs and stray away from the cuisines we have worked so hard to grow in. However, we do need to rethink the things we do well and how we can make them relevant and appealing.

Seasonality is one of the greatest selling points to today’s generation. I have created a seasonal “cheat sheet” of how to reinvent a few seasonal classics. I have been working with a fantastic product lately called Roasted and Seared® Chicken from Farmland® Smoke’NFast®. This chicken has an amazing flavor and texture that works really well in many cooking applications. Because of Farmland’s cooking process, it holds up better in soups and does not shred apart as easily as a house roasted chicken.
Each of these recipes make roughly two gallons of soup. The first recipe is a wonderfully classic soup preparation. My variations will then transform your soup from a first course into an entrée. Hopefully, this “cheat sheet” will help you rethink some of your already fantastic soups and inspire you to make them more relevant in today’s upcoming market.


Carrot and Olive Oil Soup

  • 9 carrots peeled and sliced
  • 1 sliced Spanish onion
  • 2 ounces of butter
  • 6 quarts of water
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • ½ tsp apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and black pepper, to taste

Over a medium heat, saute the carrots and onions in the butter for about 15 minutes. Add the water and apple juice and simmer for about 30 minutes until the carrots are tender. Puree the soup in a blender until smooth. Once smooth, continue to blend and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Add the vinegar at the end and season to your liking.

Chef Ponzio’s variation

  • 3 cups of chopped Roasted and Seared® chicken
  • 2 cups English peas
  • 1 cup of fava beans
  • sourdough croutons, to taste
  • fresh grated pecorino cheese, to taste

My variation to make this soup into an entree meal is simple. Once the soup is finished, add Roasted and Seared® chicken, English peas and fava beans. Garnish with sourdough croutons and fresh grated pecorino cheese to turn a once basic carrot soup into a spring vegetable and chicken soup.


Corn Chowder

  • 1 chopped Spanish onion
  • 2 chopped red bell peppers
  • 2 chopped carrots 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 pounds frozen corn kernels
  • 3 diced russet potatoes
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 cups of water
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 1 cup of half and half
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Over medium heat, sauté the onions, bell peppers and carrots in the butter for about 15 minutes until tender. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Allow the soup to cook for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender and the soup has thickened. Season the soup to your liking with salt and pepper.

Chef Ponzio’s variation

  • 2 jalapenos
  • 2 cups Roasted and Seared® chicken
  • Grated sharp cheddar cheese, to taste
  • Chives, to taste

When I want to spice this soup up, I simply add a few more ingredients to transform it into something completely different. Roast the jalapenos in the oven, seed them and roughly chop. Add the jalapenos and Roasted and Seared® chicken to the soup and let simmer for 10 minutes until all flavors have come together. Garnish with some cheese and sprinkle some chives on top for a jalapeno chicken corn chowder.


Autumn Minestrone

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large diced turnips
  • 1 large diced celery root
  • 2 large diced parsnips
  • ½ large diced red onion
  • 2 smashed cloves of garlic
  • salt, to taste
  • 8 quartered Brussels sprouts
  • 3 cups of chopped kale
  • 1 gallon of water
  • 1 cup of cooked white beans
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a saucepot over medium heat and sauté the turnips, celery root, parsnips, onions and garlic for 6-7 minutes. Season the vegetables with salt and then add the Brussels sprouts, kale and water. Allow the soup to simmer for 20 minutes. Then, add the beans and rosemary and simmer for 20 more minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Place in cooler overnight.

Chef Ponzio’s variation

  • 2 cups of shredded Roasted and Seared® chicken
  • 2 cups of cooked ditalini pasta

Minestrone is such a classic soup that I prefer to enhance it instead of take away from the beauty of the vegetables. I add Roasted and Seared® chicken and ditalini pasta to the soup. Then, at service, I top each serving with a roasted garlic pesto and a piece of olive oil grilled ciabatta to make it into a complete meal.


White Bean Soup

  • 4 ounces of diced bacon
  • 2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 minced carrot
  • ½ minced Spanish onion
  • 4 chopped garlic cloves
  • 3 quarts chicken stock
  • 1 number 10 can northern beans
  • sachet of 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Render the bacon in the olive oil until caramelized. Then add the carrots and onion and cook over medium heat until the onions get a golden brown color. Add the garlic and cook for two more minutes until the raw garlic smell has dissipated. Add the chicken stock, beans and sachet and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the sachet, add the vinegar and season with salt and pepper to your liking.

Chef Ponzio’s variation

  • 3 cups of large chopped Roasted and Seared® chicken
  • 3 cups of chopped Swiss chard
  • 2 cups of diced canned tomatoes
  • olive oil, to taste
  • grated parmigiana, to taste

This warming white bean soup can easily transform into a hearty chicken stew. Add Roasted and Seared® chicken, Swiss chard and tomatoes. Simmer in the soup for 15 minutes and taste again for seasoning. Garnish this soup with a fantastic extra virgin olive oil and finely grated parmigiana.


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