June 10, 2020

Kate Bernot

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A Cookbook for Our Times

Soup & Bread builds community with comfort food in Chicago

Soup & Bread Cookbook is a cookbook for our times. That’s ironic, given that the book is a collection of recipes prepared for crowded indoor gatherings: the Soup & Bread events that warmed cozy Chicago music venue The Hideout on Wednesday evenings pre-COVID-19. Before the pandemic, that democratic meal project rallied a community of amateur and professional cooks. They came bearing gallons of soup for attendees who offered free-will donations to benefit hunger-relief organizations. With that model, Soup & Bread has raised $100,000 since 2008.

Yesterday, Belt Publishing released a new edition of the group’s cookbook, dusted off and slightly updated since its initial release in 2011. Royalties will benefit hunger-relief efforts in Chicago. My copy of the first edition is dog-eared, broth-splattered, and totally indispensable—now more so than ever. The recipes, from West African Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup to comforting Cheddar Cheese and Beer Soup (from Wisconsin’s Kewaunee Inn) keep me from falling into a rut—and pair well with pandemic-era sourdough while bringing to mind many happy gatherings in Chicago. Ahead of the re-release, I called author and Soup & Bread founder Martha Bayne.

A Cookbook for Our Times - Quote

A lot of cheap food today is pretty un-nutritious, but soup is pure, and pretty simple. It also has these nurturing connotations to it.

Why was now the right time to reissue Soup & Bread—and why is now a weird time to reissue Soup & Bread?

It’s a weird time because we’re heading into the summer, because it’s not soup season, really. And it’s a weird time in that the book is all about celebrating communal experience and bringing people together, sharing pots of soup—all these things that have been sort of off the table lately, literally. Since the pandemic hit, I’ve been trying to think of different ways this project can be useful, and tap into our collective spirit.

The Soup & Bread events grew out of the last economic recession in 2008. Why is soup especially appropriate in times of crisis?

It’s cheap, for the most part, unless you’re making truffle-caviar stew. A lot of cheap food today is pretty un-nutritious, but soup is pure, and pretty simple. It also has nurturing connotations to it. Everybody talks about nostalgia for when you’re sick and your mom made you chicken soup. It has cozy familial associations, which come through in a lot of recipes in the book that have been passed down through families. It’s been used throughout the ages as a means of extending charity.

As much as I love my InstantPot, I find it sort of refreshing that these recipes predate it.

The book is pretty low-tech in general. There’s not even crock-pot recipes in there. Because a lot of the recipes are contributed by home cooks, these have to be things that are accessible for people to make at home.

Which recipe in this book do you find yourself cooking most often?

Escarole and white bean soup with turkey meatballs. I’ve made that a few times recently. I’m really a fan of the beans-and-greens family of soups. They’re very back-of-the-refrigerator-type things, very forgiving.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

White Bean, Kale, Kielbasa, and Tortellini Soup

White Bean, Kale, Kielbasa, and Tortellini Soup

Serves 8

Anastasia Davies Hinschliff, a Hideout bartender and an all-around craft lady, was one of our very first Soup & Bread cooks. She brought this beans-and-greens concoction (adapted from an Epicurious recipe) for our inaugural soup night in 2009, and brought her two young sons for family dinner almost every Wednesday for three years running.


1 lb. dried white beans, such as Great Northern, cannellini, or navy
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
5 cups chicken broth
1 (roughly 3×2 inch) piece of Parmesan rind
2 tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 lb. smoked kielbasa, fully cooked, sliced crosswise into ¼-inch pieces
8 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 lb. kale, stems and center ribs discarded, leaves coarsely chopped
½-1 pound cheese tortellini (fresh or boxed)
Salt and pepper, to taste


Cover beans with 2 inches of water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand uncovered for 1 hour. Drain beans and rinse. Set aside.

Add oil to the pot, place it over medium heat, and add onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Add beans, broth, 1 quart water, cheese rind, salt, pepper to taste, bay leaf, and rosemary and simmer uncovered until beans are just tender, about 50 minutes.

Stir carrots into soup and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in kale, sausage, tortellini, and one more quart of water and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender and pasta is cooked. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Reprinted with permission from the Martha Bayne and Belt Publishing


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