For dinner last night, and again today for lunch, I enjoyed a steaming bowl of what has come to be known at our house as "zero" soup or "stone soup." It's so named because, like the charachters in the book of the same name, I am able to make it out of nothing, or what seems like nothing. And it's perfect for a cold winter's day.
First let me share with you a tip I learned from a chef at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary. Save all your veggie scraps in a container or bag in the freezer. I keep a Ziploc in the freezer, and every time I chop onions, mince garlic, peel carrots or dice celery, I take all the odds and ends and even the papery skins off the garlic cloves and onions and dump them in my freezer bag for a rainy (or snowy) day. This stuff makes THE best vegetable broth ever, whether you're making a soup or using the broth in another recipe. Just be sure not to save clippings off veggies that will give the broth an odd or strong flavor -- peppers, eggplant, broccoli. I stick to the bare-bones basics, and since I use fresh veggies so often, I almost always have a supply for making broth.
So...dump all the frozen scraps (still frozen) into a soup pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer and let it go for a few hours. The longer the better. Remove from heat and strain all the scraps out so you're left with a lovely dark broth. Now you can put that in a new pot and start the soup.
I usually take the first pot (since it's already dirty and I don't want to do any more dishes than necessary) and I use it to briefly saute the veggies that are going in the soup. Here's what I chopped up yesterday, but, remember, Stone Soup is about making something from nothing, so scavenge in your pantry, fridge and freezer and see what you can come up with to make your own version. Mine is different every time. I used:
1 giant onion, chopped
6 or 7 carrots, peeled and sliced in rounds
3 celery stalks, diced (use the leafy tops)
1 small pack of Baby Bella mushrooms, sliced
A couple of handfuls of frozen string beans
Several giant handfuls of fresh kale
A splash of tomato juice (because it's here and I needed to use it up)
A splash of soy sauce (because it's here and why not?)
A pinch of thyme
Salt and pepper
I threw everything except the kale and string beans into the pot, brought it to a boil, turned it down, and let it simmer for a couple of hours. When it got close to serving time, I added the kale and beans so they'd still have a bright green color.
Finally, I typically add a cup of some tiny pasta to the soup at the very end -- ditalini, acini pepe, orzo. But last night I decided to use some of the Basmati rice leftover from another night's dinner.
Voila! Stone Soup made from nothing, or whatever was in my way. It was delicious. You can add whatever you like or have on hand -- zucchini, canned diced tomatoes, cannellini beans or chick peas, snow peas. You get the idea. It's a free-form soup. You can tinker with the flavoring as well. Sometimes I add red wine instead of soy sauce, sometimes basil instead of thyme. It all depends on my mood, which makes it fun, although it sometimes drives my family crazy because I can rarely re-create the same soup twice.
Nice part is that we almost always have leftovers of this soup since I make such a big batch. So I had it for lunch today and there's plenty more for lunches this weekend. Add a bright, shiny Clementine orange and light a little candle and you've got a healthy, balanced, simple (and hopefully peaceful) meal. Mangia.