Some rules of soup-making should never be broken

  • Creamy Mushroom Orzo Soup is delightful if you remember the cardinal rule to cook the pasta separately and add it just before serving.

      Creamy Mushroom Orzo Soup is delightful if you remember the cardinal rule to cook the pasta separately and add it just before serving. M. Eileen Brown | Staff Photographer

Updated 3/1/2023 9:07 AM

It was a rookie mistake, and I was sorry the minute I did it. My perfectly lovely Creamy Mushroom Orzo Soup would turn into a gooey, gloppy mess after one night in the fridge.

Sure enough, that's exactly what happened.


Soup rule No. 1 -- Cook the pasta separately and add it to the bowl right before serving. Otherwise, the pasta -- or any grain, really -- will absorb all the liquid and develop a mushy texture.

Duh, I knew that. I tried saving it by adding more broth the next day, but the pasta was anything but al dente, and the texture was unappetizing, to say the least.

This is a yummy recipe with a few pricey ingredients, and I ruined it.

It's not the first mistake I've made over a soup pot, and it got me thinking about the cardinal rules of soup-making. Here are just a few guidelines that should fit most soup situations:

First, add ingredients to the recipe according to their cooking time. While it is tempting to dump everything in the pot at the same time, nobody wants mushy carrots and undercooked potatoes. To avoid that, add the harder veggies -- potatoes, carrots, beets -- in first, so they have a longer time to cook. Next, add firmer vegetables like peppers, beans and corn. Finally, go with softer or frozen vegetables. If a soup calls for spinach, always add it right before serving.

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Chop the veggies to the same size. Who wants a big chunk of potato mixed in with diced carrots? It messes with the cooking time and makes it awkward to eat.

Go low and slow ... a gentle simmer is always best. It allows the flavors to release. Of course, some soups will take longer than others, but it's always best not to rush the process.

Start with fat and saute or brown your aromatics like onions and garlic. And don't forget to give the protein a good sear. This all helps to build the flavor as you go.

Speaking of building flavor, don't wait until the very end to add salt. Layer it in as you cook. That way, you have more control over it and can season the soup to your liking. Don't forget that many store-bought broths have salt in them, so seasoning as you go lets you compensate for that.


Acid is your friend. If your soup seems to be missing something, a little acid will help boost the flavor. Try adding a squeeze of lemon, a splash of wine or a tablespoon of vinegar and see if it gives you the pop you need.

And finally, give this Creamy Mushroom Orzo Soup a try -- just make sure to add the pasta at the end.

• M. Eileen Brown is the Daily Herald's vice president of sales and marketing and an incurable soup-a-holic. She specializes in vegetarian soups and blogs at

Creamy Mushroom Orzo Soup

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

2 cans cannellini beans, drained

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons salted butter

4 shallots, sliced

10 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced

10 ounces baby portobello mushrooms, sliced

10 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced

salt and pepper

5 cups broth (vegetable, mushroom or chicken)

1 pound dried orzo pasta

3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Add the dried mushrooms to a bowl, cover with hot water and set aside. Add the cannellini beans to a food processor and process till smooth. Set aside.

Put a large stock pot over medium heat and add the oil and butter. Once the butter has melted, add the shallots. Sauté until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the pot and stir with a wooden spoon to coat them in the oil and butter. Cook for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the soaked porcini mushrooms to the pot and cook for 5 minutes while stirring with a wooden spoon. Add the broth to the pot. Bring to a boil. Drop the pasta into generously salted boiling water.

While the pasta cooks, add the pureed cannellini beans to the pot.

Once the pasta is just shy of al dente, add a portion to each bowl and top with the soup. Refrigerate the remaining pasta separately and use it for leftovers.

Stir in the parsley and serve.

Serves 6

Adapted from

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