Regardless of whether you buy into the fact that it's happening (it is, all of you shorts and flip-flop wearers), fall is here with a vengeance. Cable knit sweaters, hot chocolate, and soup are all about to start playing leading roles in your life.
We all know that soup is a versatile and ostensibly easy comfort food on cold, dark nights. We also know that on a busy weeknight simmering a pot for 2-3 hours isn't going to get dinner on the table at a reasonable time. I have a hunch that this is the point in the story where Campbell's Tomato usually makes an appearance.
It doesn't need to be this way. The reason soup takes so long to make is that you're trying to build flavour; the softening of the vegetables part takes hardly any time at all. So here's what I propose: build your flavour in bulk ahead of time and stick it in the freezer. Not a revolutionary idea, you say? Correct. I'm not going to pretend that I made this up, but I will wholeheartedly stick by how effective it is.
I'm into leftovers as a concept, but because I love food so much I often get bored by eating the same thing more than a couple of times. Which is why (in addition to the fact that I have a teeny-tiny apartment freezer) I don't make a lot of batch items for freezing. What I love about the idea of making stock ahead of time is that you can change up the flavours every time by adding in various meats, veggies, and spices.
So here's what I propose: the next time you have a chicken carcass lying around (don't look at me like I'm a weirdo, this is a totally normal Sunday night occurrence) make up a batch of stock. Ideally you would end up with a couple of different variations, like one Mediterranean and one South East Asian, but if you're only going to make one keep it simple. If you're lucky enough to live in a house with a full-sized freezer, go ahead and label them well and throw them in for future use. If not, pull out the canner.
Roast the carcass in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes so that it's nicely browned. Put the bones and any juices from the pan into a large stock pot. Cover with water.
Add celery, onion, carrot, garlic, parsley, and a bay leaf. You don't even need to peel the veggies! Just make sure they're clean and chop into large chunks (like quarter the onion). I don't usually season my stock with salt as I know I'll salt the finished soup.
Feel free to get creative with more exotic spices like ginger, orange peel, green onion, cinnamon, and star anise. Just make sure you label your jars well so you don't try using that stock for tomato soup.
Simmer the pot over medium heat for approximately 4 hours, skimming off any foam that comes to the top occasionally. Strain through a fine sieve and discard the solids.
The beauty of a basic stock is you can make a million different soups out of it with the simple combination of:
Aromatics - Sauteed garlic and onions are a good place to start. Bay leaf and rosemary go beautifully together. So do chili, ginger and lemongrass.
Vegetables - Root vegetables can be cut small and thrown in at the beginning so they have a chance to soften. Greens and finely sliced vegetables like peppers, mushrooms, and zucchini can be added just before serving so they stay crunchy.
Starch - If you're looking to make a full meal, adding in some kind of starch will stretch your soup. Small chunks of potato, barley cooked right in the broth, or rice noodles added at the last minute with the fresh veggies are all great variations.
Meat - Soup is an awesome vegetarian meal option (try lentils for protein), but it's also the perfect way to stretch leftovers. Thinly slice cold steak over a steaming bowl of aromatic Thai-spiced soup or shred leftover chicken into corn and potato chowder.
Let me know what your favourite combinations are! With this simple formula you can have nutritious and flavourful soup for dinner any night of the week in about 20 minutes. I think this fall is going to be delicious.