It's a Beautiful Day - To Make Soup

It’s a beautiful day – literally. Today in Washington DC, the sun is out and the temperature is positively balmy.  Spring is definitely in the air.  Not a day one normally thinks of how to keep warm. But I like to think ahead – and weather forecasts say the weekend brings a 20+ degree drop in temperature; winter sliding back to chill us for a bit longer.

There is nothing better to warm the body – and the soul – than delicious, steaming soup, especially if it took less than one hour to make. I recently found a simple, quick and inexpensive soup recipe in Sally Schneider’s “A New Way to Cook.” She calls it  “French Winter Vegetable Soup,” but I think of it as Stone Soup.  (The book of that name is one of my favorite children’s books. It retells the folk story about three hungry soldiers who tricked villagers into making – and sharing – a hearty soup, starting with a single stone.) 

stone soup.jpg

Sally Schneider’s basic recipe is simple: water, small amount of olive oil and a bit of salt brought to a boil in a pot; add an assortment of veggies cut very small; and simmer the soup in a pot, partially covered, for half an hour.

The recipe is at the bottom of the post, and also under Soups at the Recipe tab – as my friend Phil and I made it earlier this week. We added a thick slice of pre-cooked ham from the deli department of the grocery, cut into cubes roughly the same size as the vegetables to make the soup a bit heartier. You can also add a thick slice of bread toasted with some cheese on top as a crouton.

soup, vegetables, celery root, carrot, parnsip, fennel, garlic, onion

From left - celery root, carrot, parsnip, fennel, garlic & onion.

The genius of this soup is that you can vary it depending on your tastes and what you can muster in the way of vegetables. Don’t be alarmed if you have never eaten, or even seen, some of the veggies listed in the recipe.  If you can find them, I hope you’ll try them – you won’t be sorry. 

If you cannot find them in your grocery, or if you are not so adventurous on the veggie front, then substitute others, such as zucchini or peppers (red, green or yellow.) If you find a variation that you love, I hope you’ll let us know by adding your own version to this post as a comment so others can learn from your experiment. If you are a meat eater (or meat-a-tarian as my son Liam used to say), you can add leftover chicken or sliced ham from the deli department that you’ve been using for sandwiches. 

The soup is great the next day, and can be frozen and defrosted if you want to keep it for longer than 3-4 days. Now, doesn’t that sound like great insurance against a cold wind from the north?

Mother’s Stone Soup version of Sally Schneider’s French Winter Vegetable Soup

Servings: 4 bowls

Ingredients

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large or 2 small potatoes (I prefer Yukon Gold – can use red potatoes, don’t use Russet or baking potatoes)
  • 1 small yellow onion (least expensive type of onion)
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1-2 parsnips
  • 1 turnip
  • ½ small celery root (ugly little thing, but delicious in soup or shredded in salad!)
  • ½ small fennel bulb (fresh it tastes like licorice, but cooked it has a divine, subtle taste)
  • 2 leeks
  • 1 garlic clove
  • ½ cup of cubed meat (chicken or ham)
  • fresh ground pepper
  • thick slice(s) of bread (stale works best)
  • approx ½ cup of cheese grated or shredded for melting on top of bread or adding to soup when it is served
  • parsley and herbs such as thyme, rosemary, and basil can be added just before serving - cut up very small or pounded into a paste with a teaspoon of olive oil

Equipment

  • Good knife for cutting vegetables (and cubing meat if you’re adding it)
  • Cutting board
  • Scraper/Peeler
  • Garlic press (If you don’t have one, use the side of a knife to smash the garlic on cutting board)
  • Bowl to hold cut veggies before adding them to soup
  • Pot with lid (large enough to hold about 2-3 quarts)

Preparation

Peel the outer skin from vegetables that need it (e.g. carrots, onion, parsnips, celery root and garlic) and wash the skin of the rest of the vegetables.

Cut the vegetables except for the leeks and garlic into very small cubes, about the size of your thumbnail. 

Slice the white part of the leek off from the green part, cut off the bottom strings from the white part opposite the green stem, slice the leek in half lengthwise and wash it well, separating the inner layers to let water run through where dirt can be hiding. Cut each lengthwise piece of the leek into half thin half-moon slices.

Put all the cut vegetables into a large bowl.

vegetables, cubed veggies

Lots of different veggies, cut small, give this soup complex flavor.

garlic, garlic press

Add 1 clove of garlic, pressed or smashed to the bowl of vegetables, along with cooked meat if you are using meat. (The meat should be cut into cubes of approximately the same size as most of the vegetables, or if it is cooked chicken, you might shred it.)

Put the water, olive oil, and salt in the pot and bring that liquid to a boil on a stovetop.  (When you start the water/oil/salt heating, small bubbles appear around the edges. That stage is a simmer, which is how the soup should look when it cooks with all the ingredients. But at this first stage, it must be heated to a higher temperature, until large bubbles appear all over the surface of the liquid.)

Add the vegetables (and meat.) Put the lid on the pot halfway, so that air can escape from the pot. Turn the light on the stovetop down so that the soup is simmering (small bubbles, mostly on the sides) and cook for 30 minutes.

At end of cooking time, ladle out the soup, add a crouton with melted cheese and/or herbs and enjoy!

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