Dreary winter weather makes a person want to huddle over a bowl of soup - warm, comforting soup - and not leave the house until March. That soup will be most delicious if it is made with homemade stock, a task that can daunt even the most experienced home cooks. Really, it's not that hard.
“People are so intimidated about making stock,” says Sara Foster, cookbook author, owner of Foster’s Market cafes and shops in Chapel Hill and Durham, N.C., and former contributing food editor of now-defunct Cottage Living magazine.
So when Foster teaches a cooking class, she likes to share a little trick. While chopping vegetables and meats for the soup she’s demonstrating, she throws the trimmings, from tomato cores to herb stems, into a second stock pot and starts it simmering. “Usually by the time the soup is ready, your stock is ready,” she says.
It makes all the difference. Homemade stock has less sodium and more flavor than canned. “The stock you make is so superior,” says Marilyn Markel, who manages the cooking school at A Southern Season, the gourmet food and cook wares store in Chapel Hill.
If you don’t have time to make your own, buy low-sodium, fat-free stocks and broths. You could use Foster’s trick to give them a boost.
Or squirrel away carrot, celery and onion trimmings and roast chicken carcasses and bones in separate bags in the freezer. Once every three months, make a batch and freeze it.
To provide a bit of cold weather comfort and, of course, to celebrate National Soup Month, here are instructions (see box) on how to make your own stock and how to equip your pantry to whip up a pot of soup on even a busy weeknight (see box Page C2).
The most important thing to remember, Foster says, is that soup is very forgiving. If you don’t have an ingredient, find a substitute or go without. She says, “It’s the kind of thing you can really improvise.”
HOW TO MAKE STOCK
What’s the difference between broth and stock? Broth is made by simmering meat. Stock is made by simmering roasted bones and vegetables.
To make stock, spread the bones and vegetables (50 percent onions and 25 percent each carrots and celery) in one layer in a roasting pan. For a darker stock, add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste. Roast at 375 degrees for about one hour or until the bones and vegetables are nicely browned. Stir occasionally. Do not allow to burn. Deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup of water or wine and add resulting liquid to a stock pot.
Place your ingredients – bones, celery, onion and carrots – in a large stock pot. Add enough cold water to cover. Bring stock to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Do not let it boil continuously because that will make it cloudy.
Skim the scum, fat and impurities that rise to the top.
For a fish stock, simmer 30-45 minutes. For a chicken stock, simmer 3-4 hours. For a beef or veal stock, simmer 6-8 hours.
Strain stock or broth into a clean bowl; use several layers of cheesecloth if you want a more clear stock. Store stock in the refrigerator. The next day, remove hardened fat from the stock, then freeze.
Source: Chef Instructor Jeff Hadley of Wake Technical Community College and “On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals,” by Sarah Labensky and Alan Hause, (Pearson Education, 2007.)
Black Bean and Chicken Chili
Yield: 8 servings
1 tablespoon canola oil
3/4 cup chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic
2 to 3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups chopped or shredded cooked chicken
1 28-ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
2 cups fat-free chicken broth
1 10-ounce package frozen corn, thawed
2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed
Shredded 50-percent-reduced-fat sharp cheese
Fat-free sour cream
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet or Dutch oven on medium heat. Add onion, garlic, chili powder, oregano, cumin and salt. Cook 4 minutes or until vegetables are softened.
Stir in chicken, tomatoes with liquid and broth. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
Stir in corn and beans; cook 5 to 10 minutes or until slightly thickened. Garnish with cheese and sour cream if desired.
PER SERVING: 267 calories; 23g protein; 31g carbohydrate; 7g fat (21 percent of calories from fat; 1.1g saturated); 40mg cholesterol; 9g fiber; 736mg sodium.
Source: From “7-Day Menu Planning for Dummies,” by Susan Nicholson, (Wiley, 2010)
Chicken, Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo
Yield: 8 servings
2 chicken breast halves, on the bone
1 small onion, quartered, peel left on
1 carrot, cut into chunks
1 celery stalk, cut into chunks
Salt to taste
About 10 whole black peppercorns
1 pound kielbasa, cut into 1/2 inch rounds or half moons
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup flour
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled
Cooked white rice, for serving
Place chicken, onion, carrot and celery into a small stockpot, add water to just cover chicken, season with salt and whole black peppercorns. Bring to a boil, skim off any foamy gunk, then lower heat and simmer until chicken is cooked, about 20 minutes.
Remove chicken from pot, and continue to simmer broth. When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove skin and bones and put them back into the pot. Tear or cut chicken into bite-size pieces and reserve. Continue to simmer broth while you prepare remaining ingredients, then strain broth and reserve.
Cook kielbasa in a large skillet until lightly browned on cut edges, remove from heat and reserve.
Combine vegetable oil and flour in a Dutch oven or large heavy skillet, and stir over medium high heat until the mixture (roux) turns dark tan to medium brown. Be careful not to burn or scorch it. Add onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic to brown roux and stir until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
Stir in 3 cups reserved chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Stir in reserved cooked chicken and kielbasa and simmer for 10 minutes to combine flavors. Add more broth if desired. Just before serving, stir in shrimp and cook just until shrimp are pink and curled. Serve gumbo over white rice.
Chipotle Squash Soup with Fresh Rosemary and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Yield: 8-10 servings
1 cup water
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 chipotle chiles in adobo, seeded and chopped
2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted and salted, for garnish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Place squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet with sides. Add water and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to the pan and roast squash until it is soft to the touch, 40 to 45 minutes.
Melt butter and the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil together in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, until onion is very soft and light brown. Add carrots and bell pepper and continue to cook and stir until the carrots are soft, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes, until it is fragrant but not brown.
Add broth, chipotle chiles, salt and black pepper and bring the soup to a low boil over medium-high heat. While the soup is coming to a boil, scoop out the squash flesh with a large spoon. Discard the skin and add the flesh to the soup. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes.
Remove soup from the heat and stir in the rosemary. Allow soup to cool slightly before pureeing. Working in batches if necessary, pour the soup into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and puree until it is smooth, or puree soup directly in the pot using an immersion blender. Reheat if necessary and serve warm, garnished with toasted, salted pumpkin seeds.
Source: From “Fresh Every Day: More Great Recipes from Foster’s Market,” by Sara Foster with Carolynn Carreno
TIPS FOR MAKING SOUP
It is easier to make good soup at home when you already have ingredients on hand. Cookbook author Sara Foster, who owns Foster’s Markets in Chapel Hill and Durham, shares a list of soup staples:
Broth or stock: Canned or homemade.
Beans: dried, frozen or canned.
Grains and pasta: rice and small pasta shapes, such as orzo and bow ties.
In the refrigerator: carrots, parsley, celery, parsnips, fennel and apples.
In the pantry: onions, garlic, potatoes, winter squash, canned tomatoes and tomato paste.
In the freezer: cooked and uncooked chicken, beef, pork and shrimp; leftover mashed potatoes to use as a thickener.
In the spice rack: cumin, chili powder, file powder, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, oregano, rosemary, marjoram, basil, thyme, sage, bay leaves, saffron, salt and black pepper.
From “The Foster’s Market Cookbook,” by Sara Foster, (Random House, 2002)