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.
Tom's Soup Rules
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.
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