Return of the Bread Bowl

Only a few months back, a national bread-centric chain called Panera introduced a “hot new trend” – yet another version of soup served in a bowl of hollowed-out bread. It was a “hot new trend” because Panera, along with many food journalists, told us it was. 

Which is great – since soup served in a bread bowl has apparently been a “hot new trend” since 1427.

That was the year, historians believe, that a certain Irish nobleman sought to impress a British duke – perhaps the last time any Irishman went on record caring about doing that. Instead of some normal 15th-century tableware (presumably something formed and fired of clay), he dug the inside out of whatever round bread loaf he had on hand and ladled hot soup into it. According to the story, the effort paid off. The duke set the nobleman up with a bread-bowl soup shop in what later came to be known as Dublin.

Panera is the perfect company to keep reinventing the bread bowl, since it pioneered the science of making, proofing and freezing complicated bread dough at a central location and sending it for baking-by-the-numbers at individual stores. The result is indeed fresh-baked bread, without having to keep a trained (and well-paid) “bread guy” on each payroll. Ah, the American way. And Panera always has plenty of fresh loaves lying around. Not to mention that the whole bread-bowl thing works best when loaves are slightly less than fresh.

 The trendiness of bread bowls has come and gone several times since 1427, needless to say. Its big breakthrough came in the 1980s, when restaurants in San Francisco started forming bowls from their iconic sourdough bread and using them to deliver their own variation on New England clam chowder.

All the same, the relationship between soup and bread is eternal. There is, naturally, the Campbell’s ditty about “soup and sandwich,” sung to the appropriate tune of “Love and Marriage.” In world cuisine, there are other, far more profound examples – from the bread broken into Tuscan ribolitta to make it more filling as the day’s main meal to the slices of oh-so-crusty bread toasted with Gruyere and placed atop classic French onion soup.

 Even the Chinese of Taiwan get into the act, in a rather memorable way. They hollow out a thick rectangular slab of bread with the top cut off, deep-fry both pieces in oil, fill the bottom with soup and set the top on, well, the top. Though we don’t expect any American restaurant chain to pick up the name, this is known (in Chinese, thankfully) as a “coffin lid.”


The delightful key to this soup is making it as thick (or not) as you and yours like it. The half and half and broth are your main tools here, and you can add them as you wish as you puree the soup. And your freedom doesn’t stop there. If your soup thickens in the fridge over several days, as it has been known to do, you can simply stir in more brother, half and half, or both.  If all you have on hand is milk, that works fine too.

1 ½ pounds carrots, trimmed and chopped
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
3 whole cloves garlic
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups half and half
1-2 cups Mom’s brand Primavera sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella-based “pizza-blend” cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Carefully slice the tops off 4 kaiser rolls, or French style boules with flat-enough bottoms (or trim then slightly to make them so).  Hollow out the insides to produce a bowl-shaped shell and set bottoms and tops in the oven until lightly toasted, 6-8 minutes. Remove the bowls and let cool.

Spread carrots, onion and garlic cloves across a roasting pan. Toss with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until the carrots are fork tender and caramelized around the edges. In a bowl, combine the roasted vegetables with the broth, half and half and Mom’s sauce. Add more sauce if you like a deeper, richer orange color. Preferably using an immersion or stick blender, though a regular countertop blender works too, puree the mixture until smooth.

Preheat the broiler to high. Spoon the soup into the bread bowls, filling to the top. Divide the cheese over the bowls of soup and set under the broiler until bread and cheese are toasted and bubbly. Serve immediately with tops covering or partially covering the soup. Serves 4.

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