Last winter, one of the staff people in our building said to me, “I would give anything for one more bowl of my Mother’s chicken soup.” Homemade soup is a food we associate with family, tradition, and perhaps good memories. Every so often, I make a batch of the clam chowder that was served at Rhode Island shore dinner halls in years past. It reminds me of fun times with my extended family.
("Rocky Point Clam Chowder" does have tomato and is thickened with crushed oyster crackers. You'll find a recipe here.)
Soup Is Forgiving
For those new to cooking at home, soup is a great place to start. In his book Ruhlman's Twenty, Michael Ruhlman quotes food writer Ruth Reichl who said, "If you've got chicken stock, you’ve got a meal.” (Among the recipes included in his twenty techniques are a few for soups.)
What's more, it doesn’t have to be chicken stock. You can make soup with water or make your own stock from what you have on hand. Some cooks even freeze their peelings and vegetable scraps until they have enough to make a vegan soup stock.
(Ed wrote about this cabbage and kielbasa soup here. It's one of our favorites. It's my quick way to enjoy the flavors of stuffed cabbage and kielbasa with a lot less work.)
Unlike fussy preparations, soup is very forgiving. If you don’t have one ingredient, you can usually substitute another. Soup cooks over low heat so it’s not likely to burn or scorch. And, it’s a great way to learn how to adjust the flavor of a dish.
If you think your cabbage soup is flat tasting, ladle some into a small bowl and add a dash of vinegar to see if it helps. If you like the result, you can add some vinegar to the whole pot. The same can be done with herbs, spices, salt, and pepper.
If you need a formula as a starting place for soup, I recommend Pam Anderson’s book, How to Cook Without A Book. She leads her chapter on soup with this rhyme, “Sauté an onion, then add vegetables, starch, and meat. Cook it in a quart of broth for a meal that can't be beat.” Then, she goes on to teach the reader to improvise around that theme.
(This roasted squash soup was made from leftovers and did not have meat added to it.)
And, even the meat is optional. Anderson starts with a recipe for pureed vegetable soup and tells readers how to prepare variations with broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, and squash.
Most of the cookbooks on your shelf will have a few recipes for soup. I Googled "soup recipes" as I wrote this and the result was, "About 18,400,000 results (0.30 seconds)."
However, recipes for soup can be used as simple inspiration or as a jumping off point. Take a look around your kitchen and see what you have on hand. Make a soup that is your own or, as in the case of the cabbage and kielbasa soup, make a soup version of a favorite dish for the flavor with a lot less work.
What's on your Food Lover's shopping list?
Words: Penny Cherubino, adapted for BostonZest from one of her Fresh & Local newspaper columns
Photos: ©2011-2014 Penny & Ed Cherubino