Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Vegetable Soup Formula


Vegetable soups are quickly becoming my savior as I enter my first, cold New York winter. I used to bring salads to work in Los Angeles year-round and they proved sufficient for a quick meal at my desk. I tried that here in New York during the first few weeks of November and it turned out to be less than satisfying. So much so that when faced with the green leaves staring back at me from the office refrigerator, I quickly turned and walked out the door in search of something warm and a bit more comforting.

The main problem with my new lunchtime ritual is the detrimental effect it has had on the snugness of my wardrobe. Add that to the battle already underway with the culinary school bulge and it is a recipe for disaster. One more trip to Guy & Gallard for lobster bisque and no amount of Saturday morning boot camp in Central Park is going to bring me back.

Enter the humble vegetable soup. This is the perfect comfort food compromise. It is warm, thick and packed with the flavors of fall, but if you keep the ingredients to vegetables, stock and a few key flavorings, it is supremely healthy and nourishing.

This recipe, as with most, is just a guideline. Be sure to experiment with your favorite flavors. Keep this simple formula in mind and you will produce a successful soup every time:

1. Sauté diced onions in a bit of oil. After the onions soften add any garlic, ginger or other such flavorings (not herbs) and sauté a bit more. Season with salt and pepper.
2. For a roasted vegetable soup, dice the vegetables and roast at 375˚ until tender. Alternately, you can add the vegetables to the pot with the onions and sauté a bit to achieve some color. If roasting, add the vegetables to the pot with the softened onions after roasting.
3. Add enough vegetable stock to cover everything, toss in any herbs you want to use and simmer for at least 30 minutes. If you did not roast the vegetables, make sure they are tender before proceeding.
4. Remove the herbs and use an immersion blender or a standard blender to purée the soup.
5. Return the puréed soup to the pan and season to taste with salt and pepper.

There. You just made delicious and healthy vegetable soup. The only thing I must insist on is that you, if at all possible, make your own vegetable stock. It is so simple, yet it adds so much to the final product. Not to mention that it is a great way to use up vegetable scraps. For a refresher on vegetable stock, go here. If you are not quite ready to experiment on your own, here is the recipe for my latest concoction, carrot ginger pear soup.

Carrot Ginger Pear Soup
Makes about 2 quarts

1 small onion, diced
2 T vegetable oil
1 pound carrots
2 ripe pears
2 slices fresh ginger
1 1/2 quarts vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

Heat a medium pot over medium high heat. Add the oil and diced onion and sauté until soft. Add the ginger slices and continue to sauté. While the onions are sautéing, peel and roughly chop the carrots and pears. Add the carrots and pears to the pot and sauté until beginning to soften, five to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add enough stock to cover the vegetables and simmer for 30 minutes until the carrots are tender.

To temper the spice of the ginger, remove the slices before pureeing. If you want more zip, leave the ginger in. Purée the mixture using an immersion or standard blender. Return the purée to the pot and season with salt and pepper to taste. If the soup is too thick, add a bit more vegetable stock to thin it out. Serve or cool and divide into containers for storage.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dem Bones


I used to love the knowing looks butchers would flash my way when I would ask for beef bones, chicken carcasses or offal. I once received a marriage proposal after requesting three pounds of oxtail. Rather, I think the butcher told my boyfriend, who was with me at the time, to ask me to marry him right away. ‘Put a ring on that,’ may have been the exact words. You get the point.

That was at least four years ago when I first started making my own stocks and needed to ask butchers for things like chicken carcasses. Those days are pretty much over. It seems it is no longer uncommon for someone to make their own stock or request lesser known cuts of meat. This, in itself, is a good thing. I love that the food revolution has carried quality product and more homemade—fewer processed—ingredients into the kitchen of your average home cook. However, if I am being totally honest, I miss the knowing looks. And the marriage proposals.

One key thing I have learned about stocks at The French Culinary Institute, is that any kitchen without veal stock is an ill-equipped one. On occasion I have the opportunity to bring home from school a quart container of veal stock, or excess demi glace (veal stock that has been reduced by half), but last week I found that all of my reserves had been used up. It is getting cold here in New York and I am going to need a freezer full of stocks to accommodate all of the soup and stew making I have planned for the coming weeks. Unfettered by the lack of butcher attention received in recent years, I set out last week to gather the ingredients for a batch of veal stock.

Though not a difficult task, veal stock is slightly more complicated than the chicken or vegetable stock I make. Since I make a brown veal stock, I have to roast the bones and mirepoix before leaving everything to gently simmer on the stove for hours. Still, considering what a difference using a homemade stock makes in the final flavor of many, many dishes, the effort is minimal in relation to the payoff.

The recipe included below does not need to be followed exactly (I try to use up whatever vegetable trimmings I have stashed in the freezer when making stock), but a good guideline is to aim to include mirepoix (carrots, onion, celery) equivalent to about 20 percent of the weight of bones being used. So, for my seven pounds of veal bones, I included about one and a half pounds of mirepoix.

Once the stock has simmered for roughly eight hours, cool it down quickly by breaking it into smaller containers and chilling them over an ice bath. Once cool, place the containers in the fridge if you are planning on using the stock in a day or two. Otherwise, store them in the freezer for the next soup, stew or braise you make, all of which can benefit from a little homemade stock flavor.

Veal Stock
Makes about 5 quarts

7 pounds veal bones
Vegetable oil as needed
1/2 pound carrots or carrot trimmings cut into 3-in lengths
1/2 pound onions or onion trimmings, peeled and quartered
1/2 pound celery or celery trimmings, cut into 3-in lengths
Greens from one leek, thoroughly rinsed
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup tomato trimmings or 1 plum tomato, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, smashed
Bouquet garni (bay leaf, thyme sprigs, peppercorns, parsley sprigs)

Preheat oven to 450˚
Place a heavy bottomed roasting pan in the oven to preheat. Coat the veal bones in oil and place in the pan. Roast the bones for 30 minutes then turn the bones over and continue roasting for 30 more minutes. Toss the carrots, onions, celery and leek greens with the tomato paste and add them to the roasting pan for the last 15 minutes of cooking (after the bones have been roasting for 45 minutes). Place the roasted bones and mirepoix in a large stockpot. Deglaze the roasting pan with some water to loosen the browned bits, scraping them up if necessary. Add the water and browned bits to the stockpot along with the tomato trimmings. Add cold water to the stockpot until the bones are fully submerged (about 6 quarts of water depending on the pot) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and skim well. Add the tomatoes, garlic and bouquet garni. Continue to simmer for eight hours. It should be a very low simmer with just a few bubbles breaking the surface every few seconds. Continue to skim the surface while the stock is simmering. Removing the scum that floats to the surface will result in a clear stock - a sure sign of success in a finished stock.

After the stock has simmered for eight hours, strain it and place in smaller containers to cool over an ice bath. I plug up my sink and fill it with an ice and water mixture. I then pour the stock into metal bowls and place the bowls in the ice bath to cool. Pour the cooled stock into quart containers and freeze or place in the refrigerator for later use.