Remember when all that women – it was taken for granted that it was always women – supposedly had to do to prepare dinner was open some cans of this and that, some boxes of frozen whatevers, and presto! dinner practically made itself. This is sort of an homage to that time, though I’ll remind you that I did make my own chicken stock. And any resemblance to June Cleaver is purely accidental.
I work with a lovely, kind, and generous woman whose son and daughter-in-law welcomed their first baby a few days ago. I have a day off and some time on my hands, the weather is cool-ish and breezy with a pattering rain falling, and I need to finish editing a writing project, which is always more pleasant when there is a good aroma in the air. All of which adds up to soup: dinner for me, and lots to share.
I roasted a couple of chickens recently. Stock made from the deeply colored skin and carcasses, along with the contents of the week’s stock bag, is a treasure to have in the freezer. Simmered gently overnight, by morning it reduces to a heady concentration of flavors. I pour it through a colander to remove the large solids. (Please, oh please remember to set a large bowl beneath the colander! You might not weep, but you’ll surely shriek if the gorgeous golden stock runs down the drain. As I did once. Only once.) Then I strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve (I set it over the original pot to minimize washing up) to remove the fine particulates. Stock should be a crystal clear jewel-like color. Once it has been chilled, any fat rises to the surface and you can scoop it away with a slotted spoon. I wind up with nearly a gallon of golden goodness that I divide among quart-size containers and store in the freezer for a day like today.
You know the cupboard that you dread opening because you know something is going to fall out on you? Well, I finally launched an expedition to the back of it the other day. I’m not going to be buying any size, shape, color, or ethnicity of noodle for a long time. Beans: black, cannellini, garbanzo – call me; I’ll make you a great deal. And tomatoes! Canned tomatoes should be always be a pantry staple, but come on, seven cans? Have they been reproducing in the night?
If you have some leftover chicken meat, chop it up and add it as well. The beans and other vegetables below are more a guideline; I mainly wanted to pack the soup with as much goodness as possible. Feel free to use whatever reproduces most abundantly in your pantry.
2 tablespoons butter
2 yellow onions, small dice (1/4″)
6 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
4 carrots, peeled, medium dice (1/2″)
4 stalks celery, trimmed, medium dice (1/2″)
Mushrooms, brown or white, stemmed (save the stems for stock), quartered, as many as you like
2 teaspoons dried tarragon
Sea or kosher salt and pepper
2 quarts chicken stock (if you don’t have any of your own on hand, use a good organic one)
2 28 ounce cans diced tomatoes and their juice
2 14.5 ounce cans beans (use whatever you like – I used one of black beans and another of garbanzos), drained and rinsed
1/2 half pound frozen corn kernels
1/2 pound frozen peas
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 box of your favorite shape of pasta
- Never wash mushrooms. A mushroom is like a sponge, a wet sponge. The reason for sautéing them, or any vegetable for that matter, is to drive off some
of their water so that it is cooked away, and the flavor is concentrated. If you wash a mushroom, you’re only getting it more wet. That said, obvious dirt needs to be removed, obviously, so wipe the mushroom caps gently with a dry paper towel. Quarter the large ones and halve the smaller ones.
- Film the bottom of a large soup pot with olive oil. Add the butter. Warm the pot over medium-high heat. When butter has melted and begins to bubble, add the onion and a pinch of salt. Sauté until the onion has softened. Add the garlic, mushrooms, and tarragon; cook just until the mushrooms begin to soften, 3 or 4 minutes. They want to stay plump because their texture in the final soup will be so satisfying. Next, add the carrots and celery (I like to dice them on a diagonal because they look pretty on a spoon) and sauté until the celery appears translucent and the carrots are warmed through.
- Add the canned tomatoes and the rinsed and drained beans. You can toss in the peas and corn when still frozen – just eyeball about half of a one-pound bag. Add your chicken stock and stir everything together. Cover the pot and bring the soup to a simmer, then reduce the heat to where it continues to simmer gently. Remove the lid so that flavors can concentrate. Simmer the soup for about an hour.
- Cook the pasta of your choice separately. If you add it to the soup to cook, it tends to absorb too much liquid and overcooks to a mushy consistency. Be sure to cook it a good 2 or 3 minutes less than the package calls for; after you’ve drained it, you’re going to add it to the soup and let it simmer there for a few minutes to absorb some of its flavors. I used farfalle because it always makes me smile.
- Before serving, serving, add the lemon juice and season the soup to taste with salt and pepper. Your soup is not going to taste like lemon soup; rather the lemon adds a brightness to the ensemble of flavors, making them all pop a bit more on your palate. That’s a good trick to keep up your sleeve when cooking lots of dishes.
- You can garnish the soup with some shaved Parmesan, or some shredded cheddar. I like to sprinkle some thinly sliced scallions on top after I’ve filled a bowl.
Leftovers freeze beautifully. To re-serve, let thaw in the refrigerator, then let sit at room temperature for a half hour or so. Reheat it gently in a covered pan so that you don’t overcook the pasta.
I wish you a rainy, soup-making day soon.