Canned soup is a wonderful convenience, and many available today are excellent, but there are times when making a big pot of wholesome soup feels like the right thing to do. As it simmers on the back of the stove, it fills the house with a comforting, tantalizing aroma that says, "Welcome home!"
There are as many different kinds of soup as there are bowls for serving them. Hot, cold, clear, creamy, chunky, and jelled soups all have a place. In the wintertime, many of us turn to thick, rustic vegetable soups. Nothing tastes more nourishing and warming.
The Soup Base
Vegetable soups are best when made with chicken broth or vegetable stock but they are also tasty when water is the primary ingredient. Some, like bean soups, rarely call for stock but rely on the flavor supplied by the legumes.
If you make your own chicken, turkey, beef, or vegetable stock, your soup will have a deeper flavor than if you use water. It's not hard; just time consuming.
Canned broth is a terrific and handy alternative, but try to use low-sodium products. This way, you can season the soup as you like it without worrying about the saltiness of the canned broth.
Vegetables and Other Good Things
Winter vegetable soups are nothing if not forgiving--nearly anything goes. Add root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, parsnips, celery root, beets, and potatoes. Pasta, rice, and dried beans provide texture and interest.
Other delicious ingredients often found in vegetable soups are squash, green beans, peas, mushrooms, onions, celery, tomatoes (usually canned), broccoli and cauliflower florets, and bell peppers.
Slice fresh greens and toss them in at the end of cooking for extra flavor and color. These include kale, Swiss chard, spinach, and mustard greens.
Add the ingredients in a logical order. Root veggies and winter squash need more time to cook than green beans and peas. Fresh herbs and sliced kale or spinach should be added near the end of cooking.
Cut carrots, mushrooms, green beans and similar ingredients into uniform sizes for even cooking.
Cook pasta and rice separately and add them to the soup. This way, their starch won't cloud the soup.
Dried herbs provide good flavor but fresh herbs, usually added near the end of cooking, are even better. Rosemary, basil, thyme, and parsley are all good choices of fresh herbs. Experiment with your favorite combinations.
Salt and pepper are crucial. Taste and season and then taste and season again. While you want to avoid over-salting soup, you might be surprised at how much salt it takes to bring out the flavor of a big pot. Still, use a light hand and rely on the taste-and-season method.
Vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, and cider perk up the flavor of soup. Add them in small amounts. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Many vegetable soups, and minestrone in particular, benefit from grated or shredded parmesan cheese, added to the soup after it's ladled in the bowl. The cheese melts a little on the hot soup and provides rich, salty flavor.
Classic French onion soup is topped with a generous amount of parmesan and then put in the oven or run under the broiler for a few minutes to melt the cheese into a lovely browned crust.
Chunky vegetable soups keep well in the refrigerator for up to four days -- and even improve after a day or so. Like other soups, they freeze beautifully for about a month. Pack them in containers that hold them without excess air.
Chunky vegetable soups are traditionally served in shallow soup bowls. The ingredients hold heat and so if ladled into the bowls piping hot, need the surface area to cool slightly.
On the other hand, creamy and pureed soups don't stay hot for as long and so should be served in deep, crock-like bowls, which help the soups hold heat.
Onion soup is served in its classic oven-proof crock, usually with two handles or a single long handle to help remove it from the oven or broiler.
All soups should be served with long-handled soup spoons with elongated or deep round bowls.
When you sit down to enjoy your soup, add a nice green salad, some good bread, and perhaps a glass of wine. Just about perfect!