I woke up quite happily back in my own bed again after a business trip out east to Boston earlier in the week. But 6:00 in the morning looked surprisingly different, as I looked at the clock in disbelief that it was still dark outside. Yep – it’s that time of the year again, when the cool mornings and late sunrise reminds us that the “w” word is truly right around the corner.
Getting ready for winter (oh crap, I said it) when it comes to food means two things in our house: getting my herb plants back into the house so we can continue to enjoy them, and making sure the downstairs freezer is defrosted and stocked full of basic ingredients for all the crock pot dinners that will surely keep us warm and well fed.
Ahhh, the downstairs freezer. It was only a few short months ago I was cleaning out all of the frozen pizzas, burritos, packaged Indian meals, pasties, and store bought hamburger buns to get ready for my year of inconvenience. And now the inside of that freezer looked like winter itself, as the heavy frost was hanging down from all sides leaving little room for any food. It’s an old freezer you see, but a great workhorse and my new best friend, so no mocking the carbon footprint it’s leaving – I’ll deal with that another time.
The removal of all things frozen from the caverns of heavy frost unveiled a lot of bags of bones. Chicken, turkey, ham, lamb… bones were all that remained of delicious dinners of the past. I guess all of those bags of bones were my way of preparing for cooking from scratch, since I wouldn’t be able to buy any this year – so make stock I must! Gives a whole new meaning to stocking up, now doesn’t it?
We made two kinds of stock this past weekend – chicken and lamb. I didn’t have any beef bones, but the two legs of lamb from the Indiapendence Day was going to make a nice dark, rich hearty stock for soups or other uses. I’ve seen a lot of recipes for making your basic run of the mill stock, but Lisa and I like to use a lot of ingredients to give it a great kick of flavor. We added the basic rough chopped onion and carrots (both unpeeled), celery stalks with their leaves, and a whole bunch of seasoning: bay leaf, black peppercorns, cloves, flat leaf parsley, cilantro (because it looked like flat leaf parsley), dried thyme, and kosher salt.
The chicken broth is going to be the real stand-in as it’s often called for in some of our favorite dishes such as risotto, chicken stew, pot pies and other braised dishes. I packaged it up in both 8 oz and 12 oz bags so it can be easily thawed to add as needed. After skimming off the fat (we actually kept it this time to use as a base of flavor in other dishes) I had 150+ ounces each of golden yellow and beautiful dark flavorful broth.
Today, I used all but 32 ounces of the lamb broth to make a vegetable soup. The recipe below is pretty rough, as I believe a good soup is really in the eye of the beholder. I decided to play up on the flavor base already there from the Indian leg of lamb, and made an India-inspired flavor base for the refrigerator full of vegetables I wanted to use up. So I say play with your broth a bit and don’t take soup recipes too seriously. Remember that the ultimate purpose of soup is to have a good supply so when that hot spoonful of flavor burns your tongue as you try to cool it, you’re reminded of all the summer vegetables you’ll grow again next year, after winter (damn).
Bone-Inspired Vegetable Soup
4 quarts beef or lamb stock
28 oz of diced tomatoes (canned or frozen)
1 large zucchini, quartered*
2 carrots, peeled and sliced on an angle*
2 cups green beans*, sliced into 1” pieces
4 stems of kale or chard or some kind of flavorful green, stem removed and chopped finely
1 onion, diced
½ cup or more red wine (to taste)
3 teaspoons salt
Olive oil for sautéing
Spices: cumin, coriander, garam masala, and smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
*The key to cutting vegetables it to try to make the size uniform, so they cook evenly at the same rate.
Add a bit of olive oil to a large sauté pan and begin by adding the onion, allowing it to soften just a bit before adding the other vegetables. Starting with the hardest vegetable (carrots in this case) continue to add vegetables to the pan, sautéing until they soften nicely, but don’t become over-cooked. Add about 1 teaspoon each of cumin, coriander, garam masala, and smoked paprika to your vegetables, along with 3 teaspoons salt. Add the cooked vegetables to the soup pot and stir in the red wine.
Now comes the tasting part. As the soup simmers, taste it for flavor. You may like a bit more cumin or garam masala to bring out those flavors. Don’t be afraid to add the spices, just add them slowly and allow the soup to incorporate the flavor before adding more. I let my soup simmer for about 30 minutes before tasting for additional spices, salt or pepper.
Enjoy while bundled up in your flannel jacket on your front porch, watching the autumn leaves blow by.