This was definitely the Where’s Waldo of winters here in Boston. And since this was my first “winter” here--one I anticipated with much trepidation, I am not complaining. (In fact, I would like to think that my presence here is partially responsible for the warmer temps.) Now that we have officially arrived at Spring, that for a few days seemed more like Summer, I don’t think we can accurately predict exactly what’s going on. I do worry about our eco-system and how the very unnaturalness of it all will affect our flora and fauna long-term. That is yet to be seen, and I only know that I will be anticipating next winter with even more fear than before, since Mother Nature will essentially be owing us one.
Although the past week had been downright balmy, the weather that followed over the weekend was nasty and cold. Judging from the extended forecast, Summer (and Spring) won’t be back for at least a little while, so it is safe to assume that a bowl of hot vegetable soup will still be a welcome addition to the menu. Many years ago, my mom had a go-to soup that was delicious and easy to prepare as long as she had an onion, a potato, a few fresh vegetables in the fridge, and a can of Campbell’s Vegetarian Vegetable Soup. I think my favorite go-to soup is even tastier and it doesn’t require the canned soup and all the sodium that went with it. Like Mom, I always try to have certain staple ingredients on hand at all times: onions, garlic, and carrots and celery. These veggies can be added, not only to soup, but to pasta sauces, meatloaf, and stir-fries. I also make sure to always have at least one bag of mixed vegetables in the freezer. These come in handy when the carrots and celery in the fridge have seen better days.
To make the soup: Add one large, diced onion to three tablespoons of olive oil that have been warming in a large saucepan. Once the onion has softened add three cloves of minced garlic to the pot and cook until fragrant (but not long enough for the garlic to brown). Give your pepper grinder a few turns and add about a teaspoon of salt to the mixture. Crumble in some dried thyme or oregano, and if you've got some fresh herbs, chop them up and add them as well.
Now is your turn to get creative. Chop up whatever additional vegetables you may have in your fridge or pantry--white potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, butternut squash--and add them to the pot. (About six cups total will do.) Stir all with a wooden spatula making sure to scrape up all the caramelized oniony bits on the bottom. Add to that four cups of water, chicken stock or vegetable stock. If you have some demi glace de poulet, add a spoonful of that. Dump in a can of crushed stewed tomatoes if you’ve got one, or a cup of tomato sauce will do as well. Allow the mixture to come to a slow boil and then turn it down to a simmer. For some extra flavor you might want to add a small nubbin of Parmesan or Romano cheese. Allow the soup to simmer for about 30 minutes, until all the vegetables have softened. Once that happens you can add a hearty handful of chopped spinach (fresh or frozen), and cook for a little while longer. Taste for additional seasoning, and add a thimbleful of balsamic vinegar for some zing, if desired.
Fish out the chunk of cheese. Get some soup bowls, and enjoy. A little spoonful of freshly grated parmesan on top would be lovely. Now you are fully equipped to wait it out until Spring really arrives.