Today: Soup doesn't have to be fancy, or take all day -- just follow Tom's 6 Soup Rules.
The thing about soups is you don't have to spend hours putting them together, unless of course you choose to do so.
I know what I have just told you isn’t any revelation, especially to working couples coming home and getting dinner to the table. As a stay-at-homer I’ll just be honest: I don’t know how you all do it, but you do. And soups are a great way to get it done.
I am always hesitant to post a soup recipe -- I see them as rough guides meant to be tinkered with. Not only that, we all have favorites and we tend to stick to them -- and you don't need a recipe on a clean-out-the-fridge-by-turning-it-into soup night. In other words, soup is personal and what you do behind kitchen doors is your business.
I mean I could get fancy. Lots of chefs cook all the different parts of a soup separately and then combine them at the table. The individual flavors stay segregated, which allows different flavors to hit the tastebuds at different times -- sort of the Everlasting Gobstopper theory. I figure this is the very reason I go out to eat. I let the chefs do their job, let their dishwashers wash all those pots and pans, and at home I stick to rustic.
Even so, there is some basic know-how I like to keep in mind. Like: when do I add the pasta so it doesn’t blow up and become one big bunch of soggy, limp noodles that sucks up all my broth? Do I want the starch from the rice to thicken the stock, or should I cook the grains separately in order to keep the broth clear? These are just a few of the questions you need to answer for yourself.
Here's how I answer them.
1. Quick soups usually call for stocks. Using a good homemade stock is always my first preference. Long-simmered soup will make a really good broth all on its own; quick soups need the flavor boost.
2. If using storebought stock, always use reduced or no salt varieties. I like to be in control of the salt content.
3. The closer to one-pot the better, although I often cook grains and pastas separately. I don’t like them soaking up all the broth, thus becoming soggy and bloated. More often than not, I add warm cooked grains or pasta to the bowl and then ladle on the remainder of the soup, Asian-style.
4. I almost never, and I mean never, make a soup without sautéing the aromatics and vegetables in the pot first. I have a theory: the oil used to sauté the aromatics absorbs flavors and in the finished soup these little flavored oil droplets give the finished product a much richer taste than if you just add everything to a pot and boil it. It is what some people call building flavors. It is also why you season just a little bit at different steps.
5. I always try to cut the individual ingredients so that they fit easily onto a spoon. Big hunks of stuff splashing down like an Apollo rocket into the ocean is hard on the dry cleaning bill. Rustic is closer to refined than it is to Cro-Magnon, so cut things into smallish pieces.
6. While you are making soup, you may as well make extra for the next day's lunch. Remember, soup is good food.
From FOODQUARTERLY, Winter 2013 (Get a free issue here!)
1/2 cup pancetta, small dice
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 cup yellow onion, trimmed, peeled and small dice
4 cups beef stock
1 1/2 cup fresh peas
1 cup cooked farro or brown rice
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Flat leaf parsley, minced
Photos by Tom Hirschfeld