Soup is warmth. Soup is comfort. Soup is economical. Soup is generally easy to put together, a great way to use leftovers and frankly, very few soups really require a recipe. But there are few basics…. It’s one of those cold, dreary winter days, where you look out and know tomorrow will probably bring snow. So I’m bringing out the soup pot. But before we start making soup, there are some basic ingredients that you’ll use over and over in many of the soups you’ll prepare. These are things The Goddess has lurking in her pantry and freezer, that makes soup a reality whenever she deems it so.
- Canned tomatoes-whole, diced, crushed and paste; I like the fire-roasted types, as they add just a little more interesting flavor, but get whatever is on special.
- Cans of evaporated milk (this isn’t sweetened like condensed milk). If you prepare cream soups, heavy cream, of course is without equal, but is also caloric. Evaporated milk offers a richness, without the huge calorie count (yes, Virginia it, too has calories!) and may be a better option than milk; evaporated milk won’t curdle when an acid is introduced…very important from and esthetic perspective, plus it has a good shelf life.
- Cans of coconut milk (not Cream of Coconut–that’s for Piña Coladas!) are perfect for any soup with an Asian slant, works well for people with dairy issues and is very tasty, without over-powering your soup and it has a good shelf life.
- Frozen diced onions, peppers and other veggies; these make soup prep incredibly easy–no dicing. I always have diced onion, bell pepper strips, corn, peas, broccoli, okra, chopped spinach and pearl onions in my freezer. You can just cut the bags open and dump them in the pot. There’s no need to even thaw them.
- Leftovers are perfect for soup making. You can use up leftovers,adding from your freezer or pantry, whatever you need to “fill” in.
- Dried mushrooms or porcini powder–reconstitute with broth, chop them up and toss them into the pot. This adds a homey, rustic flavor and makes button mushrooms seem like food of the gods. As a Goddess, I feel this flavor!
- Dried herbs and spices–fines herbes, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, dill weed, allspice, cloves, savory and whatever you like. I didn’t put basil and cilantro in this list, as you can get decent basil most of the year and you’ll need fresh cilantro as it doesn’t freeze or dry true to flavor. In the summer, when the garden and farmer’s markets are bursting, use the fresh stuff…but it’s January and in the Northeast, dry is great; many times they’re better than fresh. I’ve already told you about The Spice Mill. They have a terrific variety of herbs and spices, as well as a great selection of pure chile powders and flakes.
- Soup bases–The Spice Mill sells a huge variety. They are a fantastic way to add flavor; you’ll find you use them for things you might not have imagined, like adding some chicken base to the mashed potatoes you’re serving with roasted chicken. Just check out what they have, but I always have chicken, beef and clam in the refrigerator or freezer. They will keep at least 1 year in the fridge.
By the way, NEVER refrigerate potatoes or they will develop black spots in the centers and NEVER store potatoes and onions in the same bin or they will spoil very quickly. I keep my onions and potatoes in baskets on shelves under the counter. I use heaps of onions, so this time of year I’ll usually purchase a 50 pound bag and store them in the garage (it stays cold, but never freezes in our garage).
I must make a confession. I always have a few cans of tomato soup in the pantry, as The Latin Lover adores canned tomato soup, particularly with an egg sandwich. If he’s going to run the snow blower, I make the man whatever he wants.
I make tomato soup from scratch, and it’s good. He eats it, but he never enjoys it as much as he does the canned stuff. I prefer homemade, because I like the sharpness of the tomato and that’s what he dislikes about homemade…we’re a mixed marriage! I add honey and maple syrup, but for him, canned tomato soup is comfort…who am I to disagree?
By the way, I’ll be posting a tomato soup later in the month, but while we’re on the subject, if you decide to make a creamy tomato soup and add whole milk or half-and-half, it will probably curdle. To prevent this, you can add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to the tomatoes before adding the milk. This however, will also destroy much of the vitamin C in the tomatoes. I prefer to use the canned evaporated or coconut milk instead of regular. If you feel you want to use milk, simply make a thin béchamel sauce and add that at the end of cooking. This is unlikely to curdle.
One last thing before I go, get some parmesan rinds. These are quite literally the rinds leftover from the wheel of Parmesan Reggiano. You’ll find them in the specialty cheese section of the supermarket (ask if you don’t see them, as they aren’t always available). Toss 2 or 3 of these pieces into a soup and it just adds an ethereal, earthy flavor. You remove the pieces before serving. They keep pretty well (in the fridge), too.
I’m going to stop here, because you need to mull this over, check you pantry and get whatever you need before the snow starts pelting us…oh, it’s too late as it’s already started snowing. Start the fire and get out the soup pot…it’s time to make soup!