Mmmmm … cozy fall weather, root vegetables, pumpkins and squash at the farmers’ market, and one’s thoughts begin to turn to making soup.
I stopped at a local supermarket last week after the first long cold drizzly day of the fall rainy season to buy some stock for soup, and the shelf was bare. My recipe for leek, potato and celery root soup called for vegetable stock, and there was none to be bought. Vegetable broth? Not an acceptable substitute, according to some other disappointed patrons who were also fancying some nice homemade soup. So, I decided to go to the dreaded page of my cookbook, the one referenced on the soup recipe page that tells you what to do when you have no canned stock on hand … the page with the homemade stock recipe.
Two of the biggest challenges that confront a soup maker once the decision has been made to simmer up some soup – time and ingredients – are the two reasons I rarely ventured into homemade stock territory. The list of ingredients looked daunting, and I was usually in a hurry. But, with no store bought stock to fall back on, I decided to brave the challenge and learn how to fend for myself.
I pulled several cookbooks off the shelf and went to “stock” in the index. I found that all the books contained at least one recipe for vegetable stock – as if stock was one of the essential ingredients that no self-respecting cookbook would be without. Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking – Volume 1 refers to stock by its French name “fonds de cuisine” – the “foundation and working capital of the kitchen.” While Julia’s stocks all begin with a meat base, and I was looking for vegetable stock, I did glean some helpful hints from Julia’s recipe – to avoid starchy vegetables that will cloud the stock and to avoid the cabbage, turnip and cauliflower families of vegetables because of their overpowering flavors.
So I turned to Annie Somerville’s “Fields of Greens” vegetarian cookbook and I found a wonderfully simple stock recipe – one for which I already had the ingredients, too, when I searched the furthest corners of my fridge. First of all, I learned that stock making can take place simultaneously with other kitchen chores, such as cleaning out the fridge or listening to the World Series on the radio. Briefly, the “Greens” cookbook stock recipe is as follows: 1 yellow onion, 1 leek top and 4 cloves of crushed garlic, simmered in water and salt to break down their fibers. Then you add 1 chopped carrot, 1 sliced potato, 1//4 pound sliced white mushrooms, 2 sliced celery ribs, 6 chopped parsley sprigs, 6 thyme sprigs, 2 fresh marjoram or oregano sprigs, 3 fresh sage leaves, 2 bay leaves, some peppercorns and nine cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for one hour. Put the mixture through a strainer, pressing on the vegetables to get all the water out and compost them. There you have it!
This is an all-purpose stock that can be used in almost any soup recipe, and is incredibly easy to make.
I decided to foray into another cookbook to see if there was a more complicated way to make stock. Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables stock recipe calls for a square of kombu – a dried seaweed that imparts flavor and body to stock. Sounds easy enough to buy and use – something I might try. The recipe also calls for leeks, celery, carrots and onions in any combination, but you are advised to go easy on the sweeter carrot and onion. Once the rest of the herbs are added and the stock begins to simmer, you are also advised to simmer slowly – overheating the stock will render it too gelatinous. Another good thing to know. Could I be on my way to real stock know-how?When making stock you can easily experiment with additional ingredients, including tomatoes, summer squash, yams and mushrooms. Stock will keep in the fridge for days, and can be frozen indefinitely. When the urge to cook up some fall chowder or winter squash soups comes over you, having some stock on hand is a delicious time saver. I now have a bag of leek tops and random vegetables I keep in the crisper ready to go when I have an extra minute to chop and start a new batch of stock. It is kind of grounding, in a way, to have a good foundation right there in my kitchen drawer and to maximize the full potential of fall’s earthy bounty.