I come from a family of soup makers. I’ve said before that I am genetically predisposed to feed the masses. This is another way of saying that I can’t make a small batch…of anything. Soup allows me to indulge in my overzealous, big batch joy, leaving leftovers enough to fill a freezer and to gift to friends and family.
Growing up in the 1970’s (way back in the last century,) every house had a crockpot. We went through a few of them, starting with a huge, Avocado Green beast. On Friday, before leaving for work, my Mom would fill the crockpot with the contents of every left over dish from the week, and turn it on low. This was her Refrigerator Soup. Three leftover green beans, six Brussel’s sprouts and a slice of meatloaf? Right in the pot. A half cup of baked beans? A bowl of spaghetti with red sauce, a meatball and a sprinkle of parmesan? Toss it in. Two hard boiled eggs and the corn and mashed potatoes from Tuesday’s meatloaf? You got it…in it went. She would then cover the eclectic, often questionable blend with either chicken stock or beef broth, and by the time we all got home, every ingredient had worked out its issues with the others , boiled, blended, simmered and melded, and a delicious soup was waiting.
We do still have a (fancy and upgraded) crockpot, but it is mostly used for my husband’s world famous chili. I much prefer a big soup pot; three to five gallons, and often two at a time. (Admitting I am powerless over portion control is the first step.)
I do realize that not everyone has the need to cook in such quantity, (though I don’t understand it) so, in the interest of not scaring people away, I’ll scale it back a bit. This is not a recipe, but a basic formula to enable you to make soup with what you have, when you’d like.
Keep in mind that, while soup is about layering flavors, if you don’t have carrots, a sweet potato will do. No onions? No worry. Just go with celery and sweet potatoes. If I do have the basics, I’ll start with the Holy Trinity of Onions, Carrots and Celery. I’ll do two parts onion and one part each celery and carrots. Sauté in olive oil over low to low medium heat until translucent and soft. I’ll often add a pinch of salt at this point. The salt will pull the moisture out of the vegetables just a bit, which helps prevent sticking and allows the vegetables to cook without browning.
Once the base is done, I’ll add potatoes or sweet potatoes in bite size chunks. Any fresh herbs should go in now. Stir to coat and mix, and continue cooking over low for two or three minutes. If you’re adding any cooked protein, other than fish or seafood, now is the time. Toss it in, stir to incorporate and let cook for two or three minutes. Canned, diced tomatoes would go in now, adding a bit of liquid to the batch and helping to deglaze the goodness and flavor that has started to form on the bottom of the pot. You can also add a splash of water or wine to help deglaze. Now’s the time to add your broth. Even for the smallest batch, I’ll add at least a quart. If I’ll be adding beans or pasta, I may double the broth as it will be soaked up a bit by the beans or starch.
Bring it all to a rolling boil, (big bubbles) reduce to a simmer (small bubbles) and let it go for about 45 minutes, keeping a watchful eye and stirring from time to time, so that it doesn’t stick or scorch. I’ll often add fresh kale or spinach at this point, covering the top of the soup without stirring it in. Turn off the burner, pop on a lid, and walk away for a bit.
In a half an hour or so, the greens will have wilted, and will submit to stirring much more easily. Give the ingredients time to make friends, get to know each other and blend their goodness. Soup is always better the next day, and most certainly better when you give it to friends.
By Maryjane Mojer, Store Manager