When I make Vegetable Soup, I feel a little bit like Strega Nona. Do you remember her, from the dePaola book, the round Italian grandmother with the magic pasta-producing pot? My pot makes soup instead of pasta. It fills itself right up, no matter how small a batch I’ve intended. And it stays full too, all week, filling up thermoses and bowls and bellies until everyone has literally had their fill of soup. This week, honoring falling temperatures and shelves of produce, and because I don’t know where you all live and can’t deliver actual bowls, I’m sharing my Vegetable Soup Recipe with you.
To be fair, this Vegetable Soup Recipe is more like a formula. Once you know what you are doing, making any kind of soup is like following a general script. Here, as long as you have lots of vegetables, a tomato-y something, a beany something, a grainy something, and a really good Parmesan cheese rind, you are all set.
So first, understanding the process: Start by heating a Dutch oven or heavy stock pan over medium heat. Add a good swirl of olive oil to the bottom. Then, chop and sauté vegetables as you go. Always start by pressing a couple of cloves of garlic into the oil and then adding a chopped onion. As those soften, I chop a couple of carrots and stalks of celery. While I might use different vegetables every single time, I always use garlic, onion, carrots and celery. I think they are called “aromatics”… kind of a magical name.
Keep chopping and adding and sautéing. And again, use whatever you have on hand. For this particular batch, I chopped and added (in this order) half a head of cabbage, a bunch of swiss chard, ½ a zucchini and ½ a summer squash, a red banana pepper, ½ an eggplant (peeled first), a handful of mushrooms, two sliced potatoes, and some corn and green beans that I had frozen earlier in the year. Holy Cow! Is it any wonder that the pot fills itself up?
After you’ve chopped and sautéed to your hearts content, add your tomato-y something. I use a quart of stewed tomatoes that I canned earlier, but you can use store bought tomatoes or left-over pasta sauce, or even some of that oven roasted tomato sauce I blogged about earlier this Summer.
Then, add about a quart of water and maybe two cups of stock. You can use vegetable stock if you want to keep this totally vegetarian, but we like the silkiness that beef stock adds. And really, this soup will make its own stock if you let it, so feel free to skip this step all together if you want.
Next comes the grain-y something. I added ½ a cup of barley to the soup, but rice would be fine too, or any kind of grain. The grain takes the soup from being a meal-starter to a meal-in-itself.
And then the CHEESE RIND. Consider a Parmesan Cheese Rind your gift to the soup. Any grocery store with a decent cheese counter will sell you cheese rinds—Heinens actually wraps them and sells them in the produce section, right next to the garlic and basil. Drop one into your soup, simmer away, and fish it out later. It adds flavor and complexity and deliciousness.
Now that you’ve got a pot of something resembling soup, simmer it for about an hour so that your vegetables soften and your grain plumps. Then, stir in your bean-y something (I used black beans this time, but I’ve used just about every kind… even garbanzo… with success). Finally, if you have them on hand, stir in maybe a cup of frozen peas. Let the soup continue to simmer for maybe ½ an hour longer. Stir in a drizzle of good balsamic vinegar near the end (if you have it).
Serve Vegetable Soup with slices of crusty bread. As you use it for lunches and leftovers, you will notice that the vegetables and barley absorb the broth and it becomes more of a hearty stew. Feel free to add more liquid if you are anti-stew, or just re-brand it as you pass it on to family and friends.
After all this is a recipe, in that magical Strega Nona tradition, that is meant for sharing.
See you at the market.