Spring Vegetable Soup and the Beauty of a Good Stock

Spring Vegetable Soup

Spring Vegetable Soup

Last Monday I was feeling a bit groggy, even by late morning. It had been a festive but busy weekend with maybe just a little bit too much wine. I knew I was facing down a busy week and needed to find strength to power through. At times like this, I like to look for strength in the most likely of places – my fridge.

As luck would have I had taken a quart of really nice chicken stock out of the freezer the day before. I had planned to use it in another dish that never materialized. And I also had purchased a plastic box of organic greens because my daughter had pledged her new love for green smoothies while we were at the grocery store. Two days later the box was still unopened (like mother, like daughter I guess).

I decided what I needed was a nice, clean, vegetable soup. And indeed that soup was just the thing to restore myself, not to mention delicious. My husband has raved about it all week. Maybe it just hit the spot, but I do know that it also started with top-notch ingredients, and that makes all the difference. 

The recipe for the soup is below. It takes all of about 30 minutes to throw together. But I want to digress just one minute and talk about the chicken stock. The difference between homemade chicken stock and the store-bought stuff that comes in a box is night and day. Now don’t get me wrong, I too use the boxed stuff.   For many dishes that boxed stock is just fine. Especially if the stock is not a primary ingredient of the dish or it will be masked by so many other flavors it doesn’t matter. 

But once in a while, when you’re making a dish that is very simple and straightforward, the quality of the stock makes a huge difference. You probably already know that I am Roast Chicken’s biggest fan. I roast a chicken nearly every Sunday night. I’ve written about Roast Chicken before and my recipe is here, if you’d like to give it a try. I hope you do. Not only do I suspect that you’ll fall in love with the warm and nourishing flavors of the roasted bird, but also all the goodness that comes with the leftovers. Including stock.

There are a million recipes for chicken stock out there. Some complex and some less so. Every once in a while I’ll do a more intricate one, but mostly this is what I do.  

Either right after the meal where the roasted chicken was served (usually Sunday night dinner at our house) or the next day, I quickly take most of the remaining meat off of the carcass. This does not have to be a big deal, you don’t have to get every speck of meat off. In fact, the more you leave on the more flavorful your stock will be. So that amount is up to you depending on how many chicken sandwiches or tacos you hope to get out of the leftovers.  

Oh wait, let me back up a second. The other thing to do is to capture all of the bones and scraps that people don’t want to eat, as you’re carving and also once you’re clearing the table. I hope you don’t think it’s gross that I take any bones or skin left on people’s plates and save them for the stock. Much of the flavor is in the fat and bones after all, so really I’m just being frugal. 

Okay, so you’ve taken all of your bones, scraps, skin etc and the carcass (including any lemon, garlic or herbs that were stuffed in the cavity before roasting) and you put it in a medium-sized soup pot. You fill the pot with cold water, enough to cover the bird, and you put it on the stove. Bring the water to a boil and then turn the heat down until you get a gentle, but noticeable simmer. Set the temperature at about medium-low. Let it simmer away for an hour or more, two or three at the most, and then turn off the heat. (You may have to add more water to keep the bird covered, if you do it’s probably boiling too vigorously). 

Usually I just leave that pot to sit on the stove or the counter while it cools, with the chicken and all the scraps in there. Once it’s reasonably cool I put the whole pot in the fridge over night. I don’t know if there is any science to back me up on this, but I feel like letting the chicken steep in there for a while helps develop the flavor. The next day I take the pot out of the fridge, scrape off any fat that has accumulated on the top and drain the chicken. If I’m not using the stock right away, I’ll transfer it to mason jars and put it in the freezer. Always at the ready for the next pot of soup!

If you want to make this soup and don’t have any homemade stock at hand, by all means don’t let that stop you. You could take an extra 15 minutes and doctor up the boxed stuff. Put it in a pot on the stove and throw in a couple of smashed garlic cloves, some herbs and maybe the zest of a lemon, let those things simmer a bit and the flavors will come together. 

By the way, since I only had 1 quart of homemade stock defrosted, and I ultimately wanted more, I supplemented with 2 cups of store-bought. 

A couple of other notes here, you’ll notice I added a small Parmesan rind to the soup. If you have it, by all means use it, it will add a little more depth to the finished product. If not, no big deal. But if you don’t already, I highly recommend starting to save the rinds of your Parmesan in a zip lock bag in the freezer. They are a great addition to any soup or stew.  

Spring Vegetable Soup
Yields 6
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Ingredients
  1. a couple of glugs of olive oil
  2. 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  3. kosher salt
  4. 4 cloves garlic, minced
  5. 6 cups chicken stock
  6. 1 cup dry white wine
  7. 1 Parmesan rind
  8. 1 14 oz can white beans (or Garbanzo)
  9. 1 14 ounce can chopped tomatoes (preferably Muir Glen Fire Roasted)
  10. 1 tablespoon fresh thyme (crushed)
  11. 5 oz fresh greens like spinach and/or arugula
  12. 1 cup peas (optional)
  13. Salt and Pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Warm the oil over medium heat in a small to medium dutch oven. Add the chopped onion and sprinkle with a healthy pinch of salt. Saute until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté a minute more, until it's fragrant.
  2. Add the chicken stock, white wine and Parmesan rind. Bring to a gentle boil and let simmer for about 10 or so minutes. Add the tomatoes and thyme and bring back to a simmer. After about 20 or 30 minutes add the greens and stir them in. Add the peas. When the greens are wilted and the peas are bright green, serve hot.
Notes
  1. If you're not going to serve it right away, wait until the last minute to add the peas, otherwise they get tired looking.
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