"Mama's Boys" and Souped-Up Stews from Campbell's

I watch a decent amount of "SportsCenter" and therefore am no stranger to the commercials for Campbell's Chunky soups featuring hulking football players (aka the "Mama's Boys"). Campbell's is the "Official Soup Sponsor" of the NFL (suck it, Progresso!) and has tried to convince Americans that its stews are hearty enough to satisfy even a ravenous linebacker.

Although I always thought this ad campaign was fairly clever, I didn't quite buy it. I mean, literally as well as figuratively, because I never even purchased the soups. Like many people, I associate soup, at least the canned American kind, with sickness, the elderly, and boring rainy afternoons. Soup is not what I crave after bar-hopping, not what I served at my wedding, and not what I would feed my boss if she came to my house for dinner.

Poor soup. I really had been giving it the short end of the stick.

When I learned that Campbell's had expanded its Chunky soup line to include a "pub-inspired series" with flavors such as chicken quesadilla, hearty cheeseburger, and philly-style cheesesteak, I was curious enough to try them. I knew better, though, than to simply dump a can in a bowl, hit "soup" on the microwave, and grab a spoon.

My greatest stumbling block to enjoying canned soup is that it usually lacks heft both in terms of flavor and density. Even Campbell's admirable "chunky" style still seems a bit thin to me (what can I say, I like it thick). So, I decided to think of soup as actually part of the sauce spectrum, something that can in theory be eaten alone but ultimately shines brightest when it uses another medium (usually a starch) as its vehicle. With this conceptualization, possibilities for enjoying the Campbell's Chunky soup line became far more plentiful.

For example, I used the Philly-Style Cheesesteak soup -- which, by the way, does not go easy on the cheese (yes!) -- as a filling for a savory tart. The Spicy Chicken Quesadilla, my least favorite of the bunch if only because of its low chicken-to-beans ratio, proved a worthy sauce for some deliciously drippy nachos, especially in addition to some sour cream, grated cheese, and guacamole.

I would have been most comfortable eating the Hearty Cheeseburger flavor by itself, in a big bowl with perhaps some crumbled potato chips on top. I liked the little circles of sirloin sausage and the potatoes; the cheddar cheese taste could have been stronger. What I would pair with this soup (not a potato, as the label suggests) is a hamburger. That's right, a rare burger grilled sans cheese and with this soup as the sauce. Sloppy, yes, but satisfying.

So, all in all I approve of Campbell's new chunky soups. Regretfully, however, I cannot give my full endorsement to this playful product line. Not as a Pennyslvania resident, certainly not as a Steelers fan. Campbell's, where's the Roethlis-Burger stew? It really wouldn't be that difficult; just use the cheeseburger soup as a base and add some bacon, eggs, sausage, provolone cheese, and BBQ sauce. And I don't need to tell you which quarterback would serve as the official "Mama's Boy." One last favor: invite me to the filming of the commercial.

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