Cream soups are more of a problem. The typical cream soup involves ingredients sautéed in butter, much rich milk or cream, and perhaps egg yolks. The result is an emulsion of fat, mostly of the saturated type. But ingenuity can allow us to have cream soups. Vegetable oil may be substituted for half or more of the butter and skim milk may be used in place of the rich milk or cream. If need be, a bit of flour or cornstarch will help to produce suitable thickness and the result can be very good. Vegetable oil can be mixed with skim milk in a modern high-speed electric mixer or, better still, the two are put through a homogenizer together. Two or three tablespoons of oil to one teacupful of skim milk is about right to produce a thin "cream". By such means very smooth cream soups can be prepared, substantially lower in fat than the ordinary recipe result and containing fat of a far more acceptable kind.
Soups of the meat stew or minestrone type are no problem in regard to fat. With the meat-stew soups it is desirable to cool the soup, degrease it as indicated above, and reheat for serving. This is unnecessary with vegetable soups and most of the ordinary minestrones (the stock has already been degreased). The saturated fat content is trivial, and such vegetable oil as is used in the preparation may safely be left in it.
Minestrone knows as many versions as there are towns in Italy, each cook has a variant, and, indeed, the same cook may have a whole spectrum of minestrones, depending on the ingredients available. In any case it is a filling yet light soup which can easily make a whole meal with some good bread and a glass or two of dry wine, preferably red. In How to Cook a Wolf, M. F. K. Fisher says minestrone is "probably the most satisfying soup in the world for people who are hungry, as well as for those who are tired or worried or cross or in debt or in a moderate amount of pain or in love or in robust health or in any kind of business huggermuggery".
The three major varieties of minestrone are: 1. Minestrones made with meat (and a very little meat will suffice); 2. Minestrones with beans; 3. Minestrones with rice. And all of them may or may not have some pasta in them in the form of grains or threads of spaghetti-type wheat paste - tubetini, ditalini, vermicelli, or acini di pepe, the latter being named because they are scarcely bigger than pepper grains. All are usually eaten with a teaspoonful or two of grated dry Parmesan, Regano, or Romano cheese.
From minestrone it is an easy step, with no clear boundary, to meat and vegetable stew and then to stew in general. Somewhere in the no-man's-land are the fish soups variously called bouillabaisse (French), zuppa di pesce (Italian), sopa de pescado (Spanish). All around the shores of the Mediterranean this delightful sample of the sea appears; fish, shrimps, squid and shellfish of all types, according to the day's catch, find their way to the soup pot with some vegetables and a little olive oil. And out of the pot to the table come meat, claws, shells, and all, sitting in a bath of delectable broth. The very essence of the sea is caught in a one-dish meal. The calories you adjust by the amount of bread you eat, the fat is little, and what there is of it will not raise your cholesterol.
Entirely different, but equally acceptable in regard to fats, are some of the old-style soups of the Baltic area. There we find "fruit soups", really slightly thickened fruit juices, spiced, sweetened, and served hot in a soup bowl at the start of a meal. Even more strange is "buttermilk soup", made with buttermilk and lemon juice, thickened slightly and served hot. An old favourite in rural Denmark and northern Germany is a gruel prepared from beer and dark heavy rye bread sweetened with a little sugar and served hot, a dab of whipped cream being added at the last moment. Finally, in that part of the world, the soup course in old-fashioned homes is often represented by a fine-textured farina porridge or a rice porridge served hot with a dab of butter and cinnamon on top. Perhaps these are not soups, yet they come in a soup bowl just when soup would be expected. We have gone to the end of the definition of soup, though we have scarcely touched this immense class of food. And we have not even mentioned the wonderful soups that can be made with the humblest of ingredients: onions, beets (borscht), and potatoes (vichysoisse).