Since it is now pretty much officially Fall – cold, rainy, and meh – the focus in the kitchen has now moved away from grilling and smoking and into Comfort Food Mode. Gone are the lazy afternoons of working in the garden and then grilling up the things that came out of it, and in come the days of “it’s raining, cold, and windy and I’m not going back out there until March”.
Growing up around a family farm, one of my favorite comfort foods of all time was the vegetable soup my grandmother canned in massive amounts every fall. I have tried many times to re-create it in my own kitchen, but I had no written recipe to go with, and it always seemed to taste kind of bland to me when I got done with it. I have tried using everything from water to beef stock to make the stuff, and nothing ever quite tasted “right” to me, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t the vegetables making it do that, so I went back to the drawing board and focused on the liquid portion of the recipe.
The lesson here – to make good soup, you need to start with good stock. Sure, you can load the soup down with tons of seasonings to overcome bland stock or even water, but that’s not how I like to do things.
The great thing about vegetable stock is that there is no one real recipe that you have to follow. When you make beef stock or chicken stock, you really kinda have to use beef bones or chicken bones, but vegetable stock can use just about anything from the vegetable family. Those woody stem ends from asparagus? Freeze em and save them for stock. Have some celery that is nearing the end of its life in the fridge? Same thing. Carrots, peppers, or some corn cobs that you cut the kernels off of for another recipe? Yep – those make good stock too.
One of the things I like to do is to save the ‘leavins’ from vegetable dishes in a gallon bag in the freezer until I have enough for a pot of stock, which both eliminates waste and creates a great base for a future dish. No need to separate the stuff either – it is all going in a pot together, so just make one bag the designated “stock bag” and when it fills up, its simmer time.
If you don’t have leftover veggie pieces, making stock at home really isn’t that much more expensive than buying a box or two of the pre-made kind , and the results are better than anything you can find in a box. No MSG (which is a very common ingredient in canned/boxed stocks), no additives, no preservatives, you control the sodium content… The list of benefits is pretty long, and in my book makes the effort worth it. Even if you have to buy bulk packages of veggies, you can always make a double or triple sized batch of this recipe and freeze it for future use, as stock keeps expectionally well in the freezer.
One key to making vegetable stock that doesn’t really apply to meat-based stocks is the size of the ingredients. A beef stock is going to taste the same if it is made with big bones or small bones, but because the flavors in vegetables are much more subtle than those of beef, cutting the ingredients smaller really makes a difference. By slicing your veggies thin, you expose more of the surface area to the heat of the roasting and the water of the simmering, which squeezes out that much more flavor from them.
The other key was mentioned in that last paragraph, and is also something I think is essential for a rich, flavorful stock – roasting the vegetables before adding them to the pot. When you toss the vegetables in a little oil and some salt, then roast them at a fairly high temperature, it helps to concentrate the flavors. A finish under the broiler adds a little char for some smoky notes as well.
The recipe that follows is more of a guideline than a rule – use it as a base for experimenting in the kitchen and remember to save those vegetable scraps! And as for the vegetable soup recipe that made me start making this stuff… That’s coming soon.
Oh yes, and before there is forgetting of announcments: Congratulations to the winner of our one year anniversary gift box: Jayvo! Amity says that she is not quite sure how you managed to hack into random.org (did you promise the server salsa?), but she is convinced that you somehow did…