by Cristina Correa
Last week, Soup & Bread series founder and acclaimed author, Martha Bayne, teamed up with the greenest, lushest, near-tropical retreat in Chicago—the Garfield Park Conservatory—to bring a new flavor to an old favorite.

Soup & Bread, now beginning its 5th season, is a weekly winter “community soup dinner and hunger-relief fundraiser” that ladles out soup to Hideout guests who line up to chat over full bellies, beers and the DJ. The series was created in 2007 because, as Bayne—also a Hideout bartender—says, “it was the middle of the week in winter… the bar was dead.” Through Bayne’s ingenuity, this event has raised over $30,000 in donations for the Greater Chicago Food Depository and other hunger relief agencies. A way to slow down and enjoy the season while helping others with a tummy full of soup… what more could you ask for in a bustling city’s coldest months?

Soup & Bread’s pre-season teaser at the conservatory was, likewise, as the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance’s Robin Cline says, a way to “put people in connection with each other, their environment, this space and their own lives.” Bayne concurs, “When you walk in, it’s warm, quiet, humid. I like that living winter energy put together with the Soup & Bread energy.” In the spirit of that very energy, 14 local chefs and food enthusiasts donated pots full of good old-fashioned comfort food and their newest stovetop experiments inspired by ingredients that can be found in the Conservatory’s eight adjoining rooms and gorgeous outdoor gardens (prickly pear, honey and turtle, to name a few). As might be expected, some concoctions were more appetizing than others. Here are the top 5 picks of the evening, including one you can try out at home!

5. Coconut: a sweet and delicate elixir topped with “bacon” garnish (smoked and seasoned strips of dried coconut, if you were wondering) made by Hoosier Mama Pie Co. baker Alison Scott.
4. Prickly Pear: down-home desert chili inspired by the cacti of the Desert House, served up by Fulton Street Gardens’ Angela Taylor.
3. Ginger: the loveliest meeting of good ole carrot and ginger that a piece of sopping bread has ever known, served up by Mana Food Bar chef/owner Jill Barron.
2. Plantain: a delightfully spicy and sweet plantain bisque inspired by the Palm House, served up by co-editor/publisher of Graze Magazine, Cyndi Fetcher.
1. Chard: a truly autumnal harvest stew brimming with absolutely fresh and tender chard and green beans, served by Martha Bayne herself. As promised, here’s the recipe:

Garfield Park Conservatory’s Harvest Stew, from Soup & Bread
1 tbsp olive oil
½ large onion, diced
3 large, ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
3-4 medium red potatoes, quartered to 1-inch pieces
2-3 carrots, in ½ inch slices
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups vegetable stock
1 parmesan rind (optional)
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme or ¼ tsp dried thyme
dash cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
black pepper
½ cup green beans, halved (can also use sliced zucchini)
1 cup cooked white beans
½ bunch Swiss chard, roughly chopped

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add carrots, red pepper and garlic. Sauté another minute, stirring until the garlic is fragrant.

Add chopped tomatoes and potatoes and enough stock to just cover. Add parmesan rind if using and bring to a boil.

Add bay leaf, thyme sprigs, basil, cayenne and a pinch of salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover and let simmer, about one hour or until the potatoes and carrots are soft, stirring and adjusting heat as necessary. As stock cooks down, feel free to add more as needed.

When potatoes are cooked through (soft but not falling apart), add remaining stock, plus white beans, chard and green beans or zucchini and simmer another 10 minutes.

Remove bay leaf, thyme sprigs and Parmesan rind. Serve over rice or with crusty bread.

Soup & Bread’s new season at the Hideout ,1354 W. Wabansia, will begin on Wednesday, January 2nd and run every Wednesday through mid-April. They’ll host a special event tomorrow, Wednesday 11/21—donations encouraged—to benefit The Good Fork, a Brooklyn restaurant devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Rumor has it there's some soup coming in from the legendary Schwa!Check out the Soup & Bread website for info or to purchase the Soup & Bread Cookbook.