What Is The Best Winter Soup? A Soup Competition

Pictures of all the soup featured in the soup bracket. Toppings were for photography only, and were not included in the taste test for variability reasons. Photos by Ella Kauffman Smith.

I used to think I hated soup. It was watery, tended to have weird chunks, and never quite had the flavor profile I looked for in food. Now I love soup. Young me was naive and denying myself otherworldly deliciousness. I am grateful every day that I turned a soup corner and am no longer deprived of one of the best foods on the planet. 

In honor of winter (or as I call it, soup season), I wanted to share my love with the world, or at least the readers of the Franklin Post. The best way I could think to do such a thing was to combine it with a second love: tournaments. The concept is simple: eight of my favorite soups would compete in a tournament-style competition to determine the best soup. In an attempt to remove possible variables, my recipes came from the same cookbook, America’s Test Kitchen. After careful consideration, I chose the following soups for the competition: tomato, butternut squash, split pea, broccoli cheddar, French onion, chili, chicken noodle, and pasta e fagioli (I originally planned to make minestrone, but America’s Test Kitchen did not have this recipe, so I made the decision to replace it in order to maintain the integrity of the bracket). 

Making eight soups in one day is no small feat. On Sunday, January 2, my dad (who was ecstatic to help) and I set out to complete the impossible. Over the span of eight hours, while listening to the American Top 40 countdown of 2021, we filled the kitchen with (in my humble opinion) eight of the best soups ever made. Upon the arrival of my tasting squad (consisting of my mom, sister, dad; my friends Ella, Harper, and Isabella; and myself), it was time for the tournament to begin.

The first round of the playoffs were intense. The decisions were almost impossible, and the winners were anything but forgiving. 

The creaminess of the tomato soup matched up so beautifully with that of the butternut squash that kicking one out felt like a crime. The citrusy flavor of the tomatoes paired with heavy cream was a match made in heaven, but the sweetness of the squash paired with the earthy flavor of nutmeg gave the tomato soup a run for its money. Tomato moved on. 

Next, the flavorful creaminess of the broccoli cheddar managed to beat the balanced sweetness and acidity of the French onion soup. 

The face-off between the noodle soups (pasta e fagioli and chicken noodle) was tough. The chicken noodle was good, tender, and had depth thanks to the vegetables. However, the smokiness of the bacon paired with cannellini beans in the pasta e fagioli was unmatched. 

The final matchup of round one was slightly less difficult. While chili and split pea were both strong contenders, the depth of flavor that the beef and tomato brought to the chili overshadowed the less intense flavor of the split pea. 

In the semi-finals, the four competitors were tomato, broccoli cheddar, pasta e fagioli, and chili. 

The battle between tomato and broccoli cheddar was tough. The broccoli cheddar had more going on flavor wise, but the classic deliciousness of the creamy tomato pulled through in the end. 

The decision between chili and pasta e fagioli (two of the heartier soups) was a bit more challenging. Both had a deep and homey flavor, but in the end, chili embodied this slightly better. 

After almost ten hours of cooking and tasting, we had reached the final faceoff: chili vs tomato. After the third and final taste of both soups, we were left with a tough decision. The deep, spicy, flavor-packed chili came in strong, but the classic deliciousness of the sweet, creamy tomato soup pulled through in the end. Though it is arguably one of the most basic soups in the competition I couldn’t think of a more deserving soup to take home the title. Tomato soup for the win!

Winning Tomato Soup Recipe

Recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook

Serves: 8

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 50 minutes

4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter

2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, drained, with three cups of the juice reserved

1 onion, chopped fine

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1¾ cups low-sodium chicken broth

½ cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper

Cayenne pepper

1. Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the drained tomatoes, onion, brown sugar, and tomato paste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened and the tomatoes begin to carmelize, about 15 minutes.

2. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly stir in the broth and the reserved tomato juice, scraping up and browned bits. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Puree the soup in batches in a blender (or food processor) until smooth.

3. Return pureed soup to the pot and stir in the cream. Bring to a brief simmer, then remove from the heat. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste before serving.

A visual representation of the soup bracket, featuring overall champion tomato soup. Bracket created on OfficePoolStop.com.

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