Haven't you heard? It's fall. You officially have permission to slow down, don your fuzziest slippers, and read a novel or two with a steamy drink in hand. Although...there's also all the apple picking, and back-to-school decluttering, and travel planning, and (early, mind you) Thanksgiving prep. I guess fall's not so slow, after all.
But the temps are cooling, and cozier soups, stews, and braises are calling. And those take a little time to put together (for starters, you'll want to dust off your slow cooker). But what's someone gotta do to cozy up when they're short on time? Turns out, they've gotta make soup. In her fully revised, updated, and reissued edition of bestselling How to Cook Without a Book, 17 years after its initial publication, author and former Executive Editor of Cook's Illustrated, Pam Anderson, shows us how to make the easiest, heartiest, comfiest main course soup—in under 30 minutes, with no need for a recipe. I, for one, am here for that.
To get started, you'll just need the handy formula and tips below—straight from How to Cook Without a Book—and some staples from your fridge and pantry. So much soup for you!
The formula is easy to remember:
1 pound protein + 1 pound vegetables + 1 quart broth + 1 onion + 1 can tomatoes + a starch (potatoes, rice, pasta, beans) + herbs, spices, and/or flavorings
The technique is simple, too: Sauté an onion until softened, add the remaining ingredients, bring it to a simmer, cook for about 20 minutes, and serve it up.
To get dinner on the table fast, buy cuts of meat that cook swiftly. Depending on the cut, the preparation and cooking will vary slightly. Some cuts go straight to the pot, either at the beginning with all the other ingredients or at the very end. Others you add at the beginning but fish out and shred or cut into bite-size pieces.
Do certain vegetables go with certain meats? Some combinations are a natural—sausage with cabbage and potatoes or chicken with carrots and peas—but there’s not a bad match between any of these suggested soup vegetables and meats, poultry, or fish.
Unless you’re using potatoes (an easy-to-remember 1 pound), starch options for the soup formula aren’t as neat and tidy. We've outlined some options below. Bonus!: If you like, you can add two different starches to the soup. For example, 1/2 pound potatoes plus 1 can beans, or 1 cup corn plus 1 can beans. Also, if you have cooked pasta or rice, you can use it instead of raw. Figure a generous 1 1/2 cups cooked pasta or 3/4 cup cooked rice, and add it to the soup the last few minutes of cooking.
Herbs and spices add some character to your soup. While this list of herbs and spices is not comprehensive, it's enough to get you comfortable with flavoring your own soup. Add dried herbs and woody fresh herbs, such as rosemary and thyme, as well as spices at the beginning with the broth. Add soft fresh herbs and other flavorings during the last few minutes of cooking.
Once you've chosen your ingredients, here's how to turn them into soup:
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté to soften slightly, 4 to 5 minutes. Add your choice of vegetables, protein (except shrimp and scallops, which are added the last 5 minutes of cooking), and starch, as well as tomatoes, broth, and your flavorings (if using dried herbs, woody fresh herbs, or spices). Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables are tender and the flavors have blended, 15 to 20 minutes. Add any fresh flavorings (like herbs, or citrus juice or zest) and extra broth or water if needed: the soup should be thick, but juicy. Adjust seasonings, including salt and pepper, to taste. Serve.
Reprinted from How to Cook Without a Book. Copyright © 2000, 2018 by Pam Anderson. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.
What's your favorite comfy-cozy, hearty soup? Let us know in the comments!
Whether you're in the mood for some soup-simmering, leaf-peeping, or nothing at all, your dream weekend awaits...View Guide