Food Column, October 9, 2020

One working definition of pandemic fatigue is “mental and physical tiredness, as a result of navigating constant change and uncertainty.” Combine this with the upcoming national election and the fact that we can no longer “live” outside as much as we did over the summer, and we might feel like we are just DONE with all the things that keep changing, seemingly all the time.

It would be immodest of me to propose a solution. I do have a suggestion, however: Make soup. Kids are spending more time at home, and parents are often working at home or not leaving for work as much as they used to. This means the refrigerator needs more attention, perhaps even written instructions, for what to snack on, what to have for lunch or supper.

Clearly labeled containers of delicious homemade soup might provide some respite. I know it does for me. Knowing that I have containers of chicken stock in the freezer alleviates any concern I might have about what to make for dinner. I always have eggs, lemons and rice on hand, which means I can quickly put together a bowl of egg lemon soup—soothing to the soul as well as the tummy.

But that’s just me. What I want to offer you today, my readers, is a variety of recipes that will keep for a couple of days in the fridge (longer in the freezer), and be there when your family need them. Not everyone has the time to make homemade stock. Nowadays there are superb products on our supermarket shelves that allow home cooks to make really good soups without taking the time to make their own stock.

Find one you like that’s reliable (and not too salty), and you are all set. My preference is a jarred concentrate called Better Than Bouillon. I like the fact that you can start with half a teaspoon per cup of water and increase according to your own taste. For some reason, I think the organic variety of this product tastes better, but you should make your own informed decision about this. Try one of each, and see what you like.

Given the fact that you will have an instant stock (or broth; I’m using these terms interchangeably just for today), you have a huge range of options. This product comes in a number of flavors, ranging from chicken to turkey to beef to lobster to mushroom to vegetable. Yes, vegetable stock that doesn’t taste like dishwater (my friend Mary Jane Fernino, a frequent contributor to this column, often refused to use vegetable stock when we cooked together at Highfield).

Other home cooks I know will make their own stock by simmering vegetables and bones for hours, then decide to add a spoonful of this concentrate anyway, to boost the flavor. The best part (I should say ONE of the best parts) about making your own soup is that you can adjust just about everything to your own taste. What I want to give you today is a number of choices so that you will have a snack, a lunch, a dinner or a supper ready and waiting in your refrigerator.

Reheated soup is the best kind (ever wonder why Campbell’s is so universally popular?). For today’s column, I chose to return to a one of my favorite soup cookbooks. “Soup Makes the Meal” was written by Ken Haedrich almost 20 years ago, but it’s one of those I turn to again and again when looking for substantial soup ideas.

The book offers 150 recipes for soups, salads and breads. Many of them are particularly child-friendly, making them a relatively easy—and comforting—option during this time of pandemic fatigue. Readers have been requesting recipes for things they can make and leave “ready to reheat” for hungry family members, available at most any time. As we continue to spend more hours than usual in our homes, any of these soups would be a welcome treat—comforting, as only soup can be, and also soothing, for the cook(s) in the family who want to make sure there’s “good stuff” easily accessible during the day and into the evening.

This one calls for smoked cheese, but if you want, just use regular. The smoked cheese combined with bacon makes for a nice combination, however. You may also substitute frozen corn for the fresh—saving time and effort.

Smoky Fresh Corn Chowder

2 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 large onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

2 cups fresh corn (cut from 4 large ears)

5 cups chicken stock

½ cup heavy cream

3 tbsp AP flour

4 to 5 oz smoked cheddar (or plain), grated

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Chopped fresh parsley

Heat a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat and add the bacon; fry until crisp, then add the onion and cook, stirring until translucent for about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and corn, salt lightly and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a simmer; cook until the corn has lost its raw taste for about 10 minutes. Whisk the cream with the flour in a small bowl, and add this to the soup, stirring often; heat for 10 minutes, then stir in the cheese by the handful until it melts. Stir in the mustard, and add freshly ground black pepper; check for salt and serve hot, garnished with fresh parsley. This is a simple side for any soup; sometimes I don’t even add Parmesan, just letting the garlic stand on its own. I have started using a small microplane for grating my garlic, which I find easier than mincing with a knife.

Best Parmesan Garlic Bread

1 long loaf soft French bread

3 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp butter

3 cloves garlic, grated or minced

1 cup finely grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven (or toaster oven) to 400 degrees Fahrenheit; cut the bread into several sections, then halve each of the sections lengthwise. Place the bread on a baking sheet, cut sides up, and toast until they are light golden. While the bread is toasting, warm the butter in the olive oil with the garlic in a small skillet; when the butter is melted, spoon some over the inside of each piece of bread. Dust with freshly grated Parmesan and black pepper to taste; return to the oven and toast until it turns a shade or two darker. Serve at once.

Haedrich wrote his book before the invention of the Instant Pot. You can use his directions below for cooking beans, or do them in the IP, if you would rather.

White Bean
and Kale Minestrone

¾ cup dried small whit beans, picked over and rinsed

3 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

1 small bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced or grated

3 qts water or mild vegetable stock

1 large all-purpose potato, peeled and finely diced

1 cup seeded and finely diced winter squash

2 ribs celery, chopped

1 bay leaf

½ lb kale

1 cup coarsely chopped tomatoes, with juices

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp dried basil

½ tsp dried rosemary

½ cup packed fresh parsley leaves, chopped

Put the beans in a large saucepan and core with plenty of water; bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat. Cover and set aside to soak for 1 hour. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat and add the onion and pepper; cook stirring, about 8 minutes, then stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the water, potato, squash, celery and bay leaf; drain the beans and add to the pot. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook at a very gentle boil until the beans are tender, about 1 hour. Strip the kale leaves from their stems and tear into bite-sized pieces, discarding the stems; rinse the leaves in cold water and add the kale, tomato, tomato paste and herbs to the soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper and simmer 15 minutes more; stir in the parsley just before serving.

This last recipe is very child-friendly, but I have served it to adults with great success. Sometimes I make it with ground chicken or pork; you can use turkey if you prefer that instead of beef.

American Meatball Soup

Meatballs:

¾ cup fine fresh breadcrumbs

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup finely chopped onion

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

2 cloves garlic, grated or minced

1 tsp dried basil

½ tsp dried oregano

¾ lb lean ground beef

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Mix the bread crumbs, Parmesan, onion, parsley, garlic and herbs together with a fork; pour the egg over the mixture, and blend lightly with a fork. Add the beef and salt and pepper to taste; mix together with your hands, and form into meatballs, each one about 1-inch in diameter. Put the meatballs on a plate and cover; refrigerate until needed.

Broth:

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 rib celery, chopped

1 small bell pepper, chopped

2 cloves garlic, grated or minced

4 cups beef stock (or another stock of your choosing if you are not using beef)

1½ cups canned crushed tomatoes in puree

Additional Parmesan for serving

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat, and add the vegetables; cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 9 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, then add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer; drop the meatballs into the simmering broth and cook at a gentle simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve piping hot, passing Parmesan cheese at the table.

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