It was after reading Melissa Clark’s New York Times cooking column on casseroles and the reference to the mid-century quick and easy “Eight-Can” Casserole made with canned chicken and two kinds of “cream of” soups, that this Examiner had that aha moment. goo.gl/pTes4L
The stars were in alignment. It was now time to write about the Progresso Artisan Soups. http://www.progressoartisan.com
While the Progresso soups come not in a can but in a swelled-up sized juicy-juice like carton, (technically it’s a Tetra pak that claims to be made from paper and 70% are made from selectively harvested and regrown trees) the time seems right to review the Progresso Artisan soups, a new line of soups that premiered in the New York metro area.
What’s the link?
Precisely. That was the question.
At the time of the Progresso Artisan soup introduction, celebrity restaurateur, Joe Bastianich was the spokesperson for the soup line.
This seemingly head-scratching affiliation alone led this Examiner to pursue the interview with Bastianich.
Was his endorsement a compromise of sorts?
Progresso had already sent the line of Artisan soups to taste preview. The soup arrived packaged like a Gilt-fashion product: wrapped up in a high-quality wooden, blue milk crate box (that is now a perfect storage bin to homegrown potatoes) and lots of high-gloss, magazine-style background material and fact sheets, including Bastianich’s two page profile biography and very cool-looking head shot…
It’s all very impressive, of course. (With such a robust resume and accomplishments, one is pressed to ask if he is just one person.)
From being a TODAY Show regular to Eataly to his best-selling memoir, “Restaurant Man,” to his vineyards, and constellation of successful restaurants including Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca, Lupa Osteria Romana, and Del Posto (this is a personal favorite – a restaurant temple), this restaurateur is a bona fide, authentic success.
The reference in the profile to Bastianich’s “Dickensian roots?!” (As in poverty and social injustice?) Not so much. Doesn’t resonate.
Bastianich’s pedigree is very well known. His mother – and business partner - after all, is the famous Lidia Bastianich. She and his father, Felice own the perennially successful uptown restaurant, Felidia’s. She has many cookbooks to her credit.
No Soup Nazi – A Soup Progresso
Soup as an ingredient in a casserole was not the keystone for Bastianich’s willingness to serve as a spokesperson for a corporate culinary introduction. Nor was Seinfield's infamous soup master.
Bastianich said, “It’s a funny story” -- his opening salvo as he explained how he grew up in an Italian American culture.
“Progresso soup was always in my house. “
In fact, he went onto say, “It was the only canned food in our house and the only processed food my 94 year old grandmother trusts.”
While this Examiner can readily identify with this pantry stock – Progresso was the gourmet soup in our everyday Campbell’s home; but then my parents weren’t world-class Italian cooks.
More convincingly, he added, “Not all food has to be exclusive or sustainable. That’s just not always attainable.” If not noble, a pragmatic point worth calling out. Clearly, he's no food snob despite serving up some of the very best ingredients and cuisine.
“The Artisan soups offer good value – providing good quality food in a convenient, easy to eat way.”
He noted, “There is something commendable about using identifiable products that resonate, such as kale and squash, fire roasted red peppers, turnips, and tomatoes.”
His collaboration with Progresso is a “mutual thing to promote all-things Italian,” which made the connection much more understandable.
And there is no doubt this man is the torch bearer for his Italian heritage and all things that hail from "The Boot" peninsula…
He also doesn’t hesitate to point out that Progresso soups are made with "real food." An oxymoron to a foodie...
While he confesses he didn’t work on the recipes -- that is the task of Progresso’s team, led by culinary expert, Heidi Teoh, Ph.D. and principle scientist, General Mills, Inc. (Yikes, scientists in the kitchen doesn’t conjure up the image of Nonni stirring that pot of soup!)
The press release quotes Bastianich: “I grew up eating Progresso, so I’m proud to partner with the beloved brand. Both the vegetable bisques and hearty soups compliment the most amazing meals. The new line of Artisan soups combines the delicious tastes Progresso is known for and the ones I’ve always savored.”
All poking aside, the soups do taste good. The ingredients are indeed “real.”
The spices, including sea salt, turmeric, and cracked black pepper are a welcome addition to the taste.
While there are other ingredients needed for a retail-stocked product such as lecithin, this Examiner can’t register a grievance with that, per se – recognizing that not everyone is yet in a place where fresh food can be conveniently sourced. (Why not, is another story.)
It’s just that the sodium and saturated fat content is so high – both register on the label at nearly 30% of the recommended daily allowance.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of saturated fat to less that 7 percent of total daily calories or about 16 grams per day.
These soups contain around 6 grams. As long as one watches the rest of the day’s menu, all ok. And same for the salt.
The concern is that those prone to convenient foods might combine this with other processed food choices that can add up to a dietary issue…
Note that the both the Smoky White Bean & Winter Vegetables and the Rustic Tomato with Chicken & Dumplings has 0% saturated fat but the same 29% sodium content. Taste through salt…
Here is an example of the ingredients as listed on the Masala Butternut Squash soup:
Ingredients: Butternut Squash, Water, Cream, Onions, Red Bell Peppers, and Coconut. Contains less than 2% of: Modified Food Starch, Sea Salt, Sugar, Spice, Paprika, Salt, Natural Flavor, Onion Powder, Yeast Extract, Turmeric, Raisin Juice Concentrate, Garlic Powder, Soy Lecithin
The Artisan Soup line includes two vegetable bisque and three hearty soup varieties:
· Creamy Tomato with Roasted Red Peppers
· Masala Curry Butternut Squash
· Rustic Tomato with Chicken and Dumplings
· Creamy Potato with Sausage and Kale
· Smoky White Bean and Winter Vegetables
This Examiner tried most of the soups at the office, heated in a microwave because that is how most folks will likely prepare the “ready-to-serve” meal vs. the Stove-Top prep.
However, each and every time, the soup was heated – in a bowl -- in the microwave - it exploded. This obviously led to an extended clean up time. And cleaning a microwave is not fun…
This Examiner can follow complicated recipes and heating instructions with aplomb! The directions read: Microwave: DO NOT MICROWAVE CARTON Pour contents into 1-quart microwaveable bowl. Cover, microwave on High 2-4 minutes or until hot. Loud Popping Sounds may occur.
Let stand 1 minute.
It goes on to say Bowl will be hot! Avoid Steam!
The Popping Sounds do occur. Every time. That sound comes from the soup exploding. Despite adjusting the heating time from a low of 30 seconds to a high of only 2 minutes – not the three allowed - with daily adjustments for each of the 5 test soups, all exploded…
I asked Bastianich about this. He quickly said, “You can’t cook it in the carton.” Got that…
Be careful. Especially if kids are heating up their soups. Often, the soup still popped even after waiting a minute before removing from the oven so it can pop in one’s face.
After navigating the minefield of popping soup – and clean up - they are indeed hearty and good tasting.
In an email follow up exchange post taste-testing and the Bastianich interview, the company addressed this Examiner’s added questions:
Where are ingredients sourced?
We have multiple ingredient sources that allow us to use premium, high-quality ingredients in these soups. We are thrilled to introduce new ingredients like kale, roasted red pepper, butternut squash and root vegetables like turnips and parsnips.
Who is the target customer?
The target consumer is anyone who is unabashedly about fresh taste and flavors, and believes it best comes from quality, simple ingredients.
Who/What is competition?
We cannot comment on behalf of another company but at Progresso, we continue to see a growing opportunity to help consumers with solutions for easy, flavorful meals. Most importantly, we believe consumers can reach a level of flavor and quality not currently available on the market.
Why introduce this line now?
People are eating different today – they want to be intrigued with authentic and surprising products, but it also needs to fit a lifestyle that is about good, quality ingredients. We want to fuel this passion with a line of Artisan soups that deliver exciting flavors and hand crafted quality.
How often will there be updates to the Artisan line? Seasonally or?
We are looking forward to seeing how consumers on the East Coast respond to our launch and we will continue to monitor trends, test recipes and develop new flavor profiles.
Why 2 servings in a box vs. 1? Seems like it can waste soup, as one would have to use on consecutive days or...
We wanted to offer consumers more than one serving. The soup is good for 5 days after it has been opened.
I tried all but one of the soups - thank you again for the beautiful display and packaging -- and I heated in a bowl in the micro - but each time - it exploded in the micro - even though it didn't make it past 2 minutes - so hot and explode then cool and clean. I see it says there might be a popping sound noted on the soup box but this is more than natural. Please explain.
The soup can be heated in a microwave safe bowl or on the stove. Similar to other liquid food products, the soup may boil when heated to a certain degree.
The Artisan soups retail for $2.99. One can email Progresso or log onto to their website to request a notification as to market availability. www.ProgressoArtisan.com @ProgressoArtisan on Instagram.
Progresso provides a terrific website, designed to engage its customers, er, friends.
The time you save preparing the soup, you can devote to learning about and creating your own soup.
One can not only learn the story and inspiration behind the soups, one creates their own soup based on the Progresso soup “Blueprint.”
According to Progresso, the Blueprint is the way to experiment with flavor – to “map out that idea with ingredients that bring it to life.”
It’s kind of like an online 7-Step Bingo.
Here one can play with flavors such as Smoky, Spicy, Rich and Sweet for example, then choose the next screen’s beef or tomato or other choices to add in and so on, all the way to a selection of six spices.
At the end, one gets to name the Soup and submit to Progresso and then Share on social media, too.
While this exercise probably engages most with TMI, it is nevertheless well-executed and can give the neophyte soup maker a better sense of what goes into making good soup, filled with quality ingredients.
The site also offers informative food tips (all good) and information about local food makers, as provided by Serious Eats through a sponsored ad program.
Manhattan’s Silver Moon Bakery is showcased, for example, and with more than 25 different kinds of bread, one is sure to find a delicious companion to soup. http://silvermoonbakery.com