Nov 14th, 2005
My mom always made the best soup. Clean Out The Refrigerator Soup was her specialty - if it didn't get eaten during the week, chances are you'd be encountering it in your soup bowl at week's end. Now that sounds like something that could lead to years of therapy and deep-seated soup aversion, but reference the first sentence. Those soups were good! And she never used a recipe as far as I know.
I've always been a slave to the soup recipe, but something happened recently to change that. My parents stayed at our place with the kids while we were in San Francisco with all you lovely people. And as usual my fridge was filled to bursting with vegetables just threatening to go bad. So when we got home my mom had stocked us up with homemade vegetable soup with a little leftover sausage thrown in. Now I've seen my mom make soup hundreds of times, but somehow the fact that all the ingredients came out of my fridge and were cooked in my very own kitchen triggered a little switch in my brain. It was as if I were walking around with a little lightbulb over my head with a thought bubble that read, 'I can make soup!'
So now the floodgates have been thrown open and it's been a veritable SoupFest around our house (Souparama? Soupaganza? Soupalooza?) As the week winds down and the horrible realization dawns that another box full of fresh vegetables is about to descend on our house without us having made a discernable dent in the last one, it's soup time! Start with chicken stock, add carrots, celery, onions, broccoli, zucchini, parsnips, potatoes, swiss chard, cauliflower, squash, whatever you've got. Cook until the vegetables are soft. A can of diced tomatoes livens things up, as do leftover bits of pesto or any basil you've got lying around in the back of the fridge. For a while in the summer we had bags of arugula and basil and I was chopping up a mixture of both with a clove or two of garlic and adding it to the soup near the end of cooking time. If there was any leftover I'd add a spoonfull to my bowl after heating it up along with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. If you have any leftover chicken or sausage, hey throw it in. You may or may not need salt depending on the saltiness of your broth and your additions.
The blender is your friend. Blended soups are so easy and another great way to use up leftovers. Put cooked broccoli, warm chicken broth (heat it in the microwave), and grated cheddar cheese in the blender and you've got cheese-broccoli soup for lunch the next day. You can add a little cream, milk, or evaporated milk if you'd like, but you don't have to. I also made a yummy soup last week with the leftovers of a meal featuring black beans and guacamole. Into your trusty blender throw a can of black beans (drained), chicken broth, guacamole or sliced avocado or both, some diced fresh tomatoes if you've got 'em, and a bit of salsa. If you have sour cream and/or grated cheese to dollop on top you should do so. And of course you could reduce the amount of broth and serve this as a dip instead.
And of course there's trusty old chicken noodle. When we have a roast chicken I always save the bones in the freezer. If you've got two of these and some leftover cooked chicken you've got soup. Just simmer the chicken bones with water to cover along with very roughly chopped carrot, celery, onion, and parsley if you've got it (some ginger root and lemongrass added here can take you in a nice Asian-inspired direction). You don't even need to peel the vegetables. After a few hours you can pour the whole mess through a strainer and you've got broth/stock. I usually put the broth in the fridge at that point till the next day. Just throw away all the veggies and bones from the broth - they've given all they can, there is no need to ask them to do any more. The next day you can skim the fat off the top of the stock, throw it in your soup pot and add carrots and celery. The shredded cooked chicken and noodles are added after the veggies are tender and cooked until the noodles are done. I usually use corkscrew pasta, but you can use any smallish tube like pasta. Salt to taste. Feel free to supplement the stock with water or boxed broth if you need a bit more. That's it!
Long live the soup!