My favorite kind of gathering to throw this time of year is a soup party. Hands down. It encourages a very informal mingling that I'm always drawn to far more than stuffy, plated dinner parties and it gives me a chance to flex my soup muscles and try a few new recipes. But I've found that, while casual, a soup party does take a little tending and planning.
My family has a long history of soup parties in the fall. Growing up, my mom always made a big pot of pea soup and homemade rolls for Halloween dinner. We'd eat early and head out to trick-or-treat. Even as we grew far too old for these sorts of Halloween festivities, pea soup was the standard. In fact, my mom still makes it for herself to this day.
Halloween or no, I usually throw a soup party the second the weather begins to turn. This year it was small and intimate, four of us sharing a squash soup, good bread, wine and chocolate.
After years of hosting similar parties, I've gathered a few tips that will allow for a no-fail night:
5 Successful Soup Party Tips:
While the main draw of having a soup party is ease, it is nice to have variety for your guests. I almost always choose at least two soups to serve, one hearty and one a creamy or pureed soup. And flavor profile is something to consider as well. Having one spicier choice like a hearty chili and a milder soup like a simple minestrone or vegetable is always a good route.
Toppings can really make a soup party. I actually find that people end up gathering around the table and talking about the toppings more than the soup itself. Consider having a few crunchy options like croutons or toasted nuts (pumpkin seeds are always a favorite). I also love having sour cream, a little bowl of shredded cheese, chopped green onions and parsley, and some sort of pesto or salsa verde.
3. Memorable Bread
Right up there with toppings? A really good slice of bread to sop up that remaining soup in the bowl. While sourdough can be a classic, especially with creamy soups like clam chowder, I generally choose a good, crusty baguette. Slice it before folks arrive or just let people tear off chunks for a more rustic presentation.
4. Consider Serving ... and Seating
My favorite way to organize a soup party is to have the pots of soup heating on the stove, and to encourage friends to serve themselves. This makes it much less fussy than actually serving folks, and I also find that people will wander in for seconds and gather in the kitchen, which I always love. Second, soup is messy. While I love everything about casual parties, you're going to need to have napkins and think about where people will sit so they're not dropping squash soup all over your favorite white rug.
5. What About Dessert?
For a soup party, I arrange dessert in much the same way I think about the whole evening: I have little bits of a few things.
I'll usually buy a good chocolate bar, have some fresh fruit, maybe small wedges of a brownie or a simple cheesecake. Nothing over-the-top, but a little something sweet to finish off the evening.
Related: Spiced-Up Menu for a Weekend Soup Party
(Images: Martha Stewart: Cauliflower and Roasted Garlic Soup; Sweet Red Pepper-Beet Soup)
5 Good Soup Party Recipes
• Chile Con Carne - Simply Recipes
• Green Pea Soup - 101 Cookbooks
• Barley Soup with Mushrooms and Kale - New York Times
• Classic Butternut Squash Soup - Whole Foods
• Minestrone - Epicurious