Take stock of soup
By Donna Deane
Los Angeles Times
By Donna Deane
You think you know vegetable soup? Shakespeare's Cleopatra with her "infinite variety" had nothing on vegetable soup. It can be thick and chunky, light and delicate, rich and smoky, or bright and tangy. Vegetable soup can be a meal in itself or an appetizing first course, a soul-satisfying lunch or a blissfully warming supper.
It starts with stock, of course. But that doesn't mean you need to use meat, or even poultry or fish. With a few tricks, you can coax enough flavor and body out of just vegetables as a fabulous foundation for a truly vegetarian soup.
Start with aromatic vegetables. Leeks are incredibly flavorful — just simmer them alone in water, and you're halfway to a good vegetable stock. Add celery, carrots, garlic and herbs, and you have a versatile light vegan stock. Cutting the vegetables into a small dice and lightly sauteing them helps them quickly release their flavors.
You can use the stock instead of water to cook rice or other grain. It can be frozen and kept on hand to make a nice little pan sauce for fish or chicken. Or add caramelized onions and sugar and a little white wine and brandy, and you've got a luscious, rich soup with layers of flavors.
Another terrific stock comes from roasted vegetables. Toss onions, carrots, celery, garlic and celery root with a little olive oil and seasoning and roast them until tender and brown. Simmer them with leeks, herbs, mushrooms and potato peel for less than an hour, and you'll get a rich, brown stock with deep, earthy flavor.
This stock pairs well with grains such as brown rice or bulgur, and adds wonderful flavor when used as a cooking liquid to poach assertive greens such as cabbage, collards or kale. But perhaps most satisfying is a hearty vegetable soup made with dried small white beans, roasted mushrooms, potato and cabbage.
Or you can go for more pure flavor in a stock — and mushrooms work great. Simmer dried and fresh mushrooms with aromatics to make an appealingly meaty stock that's even better when pearl barley is added, thickening the stock and giving it body. It's the basis for a soup made with sweet turnips and bright chard, a dish that reminds us how intensely flavorful each vegetable can be when handled properly.
Vegetable stocks are quick-cooking and achieve maximum flavor, depending on the ingredients, in 30 minutes to an hour after coming to a boil — just enough time to relax with a glass of wine and consider your next steps. Don't leave vegetable stock on the burner for hours — you'll end up with a wilted flavor and a slight bitterness from the aromatics. For the longer simmering stocks, cut the vegetables into larger pieces.
Once a vegetable stock has finished cooking, strain it immediately through a fine mesh strainer lined with a cheesecloth. Letting the vegetables stand in the stock after cooking can cause the stock to lose vibrancy. After straining, however, you may refrigerate or freeze as desired.
Below, three stocks to make three different soups — each stock has a different character.
ROASTED VEGETABLE STOCK
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss the onion, carrots, celery, garlic and celery root with the olive oil, salt and pepper in a large baking pan. Roast 35 to 45 minutes or until vegetables are lightly browned, stirring occasionally.
Place the roasted vegetables in a tall 8-quart stockpot. Cut the leeks into quarter-inch slices and add them to the pot. Add the peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme, parsley and dried mushrooms. Peel the potatoes and add the peels to the pot.
Cut the peeled potatoes into half-inch dice, cover them with cold water, and set aside to use in the soup. Add 10 cups cold water to the stockpot.
Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer 45 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat. Strain the stock through a cheesecloth-lined strainer, lightly pressing the vegetables with the back of a spoon to extract juices. Discard the vegetables.
You will have about 8 cups of stock.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss the sliced mushrooms in a bowl with 4 teaspoons olive oil, 1/8 teaspoon salt and a pinch of white pepper. Place in a baking pan and roast for about 13 minutes, until tender and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let stand.
Saute the onion, celery and carrot in 2 tablespoons olive oil in a tall 8-quart stockpot until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute 1 minute.
Add the white beans, vegetable stock, cabbage and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Add the drained potatoes and the mushrooms during the last 30 minutes of cooking.
Add the green and yellow beans during the last 15 minutes of cooking and simmer until the beans are crisp-tender. Season to taste with salt. Serve the soup with toasted french bread brushed with good olive oil.
Serves 4 to 6.
Fennel-onion soup begins with a light vegetable stock that's less gutsy than the roasted vegetable broth above. If you're unfamiliar with fennel, don't worry — you won't end up with licorice soup! The hint of anise is quite subtle. Serve a fennel-onion soup with simple garlic toasts made by rubbing crostini with a cut clove of garlic. Or, for a cheese-crusted version, divide the soup into four baking dishes and top each with two or three croutons and about 1/4 cup shredded gruyere cheese before baking in a 400-degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes.
LIGHT VEGETABLE STOCK
Heat the oil in a tall 8-quart stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the leeks, carrots and celery and cook until tender, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf, parsley, fennel and thyme. Add 10 cups cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat, cover and cook at a hard simmer 35 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat. Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer, gently pressing the vegetables to extract liquid. Discard the vegetables.
You should have 9 cups of stock.
Trim the feathery fronds and stems from the fennel bulbs. Chop 1 tablespoon of the fronds and reserve.
Cut the bulbs in half lengthwise and remove the cores. Thinly slice on a mandoline.
Peel the onions, then very thinly slice on a mandoline.
Heat the oil in a heavy 5 1/2-quart sauce pot and saute the fennel, onions and sugar over high heat for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the vegetables are very tender and lightly browned, 30 to 40 minutes.
Add the wine and simmer 1 to 2 minutes or until the wine is almost evaporated. Add the vegetable stock and salt. Cover and simmer 20 minutes to blend flavors.
Add the armagnac, if using, and simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Stir in the reserved chopped fennel fronds. Season to taste with salt.
Put the baguette slices on a baking sheet. Broil until golden brown and crisp, about 45 seconds to 1 minute. Rub each slice with the cut garlic clove, then turn and brown the other side, about 20 seconds.
Serve the soup with the garlic toasts on the side.
Servings: 4 to 6
This mushroom stock is perfect for making sauces and gravies; cook it down to concentrate flavors for those uses. Or make the following soup with healthful barley and Swiss chard.
Clean the mushrooms with a damp paper towel. Trim the stem ends and quarter the mushrooms.
Put the mushrooms in a tall 8-quart stockpot. Add the dried shiitakes, leek, garlic, thyme and peppercorns. Add 3 quarts (12 cups) cold water.
Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer 35 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and let stand to cool 5 minutes. Strain through a mesh strainer, gently pressing the vegetables with a spoon to extract juices. Discard the vegetables. You should have 11 cups of broth; add water until the broth measures 11 cups, if needed.
MUSHROOM, BARLEY, SWISS CHARD SOUP
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a tall 8-quart stockpot over medium-high heat.
Add the onion, carrot and celery and saute until the vegetables are tender but not browned, about 4 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook 1 minute.
Stir in the barley and stock. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and cover.
Cook 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium nonstick skillet until hot. Add the mushrooms and saute until lightly browned, about 7 minutes.
Add the salt, Swiss chard, turnips and sauteed mushrooms to the stockpot. Bring the soup to a simmer, cover and cook 30 minutes.
Servings: 6 to 8