Whether it’s icy outside, or cool, or simply slightly less hot than the place that bad people are supposed to go, this is the season for making soup. And one of the most dramatic lessons I’ve learned in all these years of cooking for people is that soup is the easiest thing in the universe to make.
Yes, I do mean from scratch. And I definitely mean WBOC – Without Benefit of Can.
I’m not against every convenience or convenience food, since there are many I like and use. Canned broth, I think, is often a godsend, since it saves the home cook those hours of boiling bones over the stove, and really, who keeps bones around anyway?
Restaurant chefs typically proclaim that only homemade stock is good enough, not least because the typical canned stock or broth is very salty. I have never been bothered by this, since I don’t salt dishes heavy-handedly the way most restaurants do – so pot, don’t be calling the kettle black. Even more notably, I’ve checked out the pantries of chefs who deny any shortcuts, only to find shelves full of them.
Deep down, I’m surprised and disappointed that canned soup became so ubiquitous in the United States. I love everything about Campbell’s except, of course, the soup – from their old “Soup and Sandwich” song built on the lilty “Love and Marriage” to their ongoing assertion that “soup is good food.” Surprisingly, I do see why many people use cream of mushroom soup in so many casseroles, since it approximates one or more important but hard-to-master flour-thickened French sauces.
But really now, why would anyone buy a can of broth-based chicken and vegetable soup? The only skills required are putting chicken and vegetables in a large pot with water, plus a little seasoning, and letting it simmer a while. If you’ve ever cooked, and perhaps even if you’ve ever eaten, you have enough skill already.
I saw this great truth in action a couple winters ago, when we were visiting Montreal on purpose, to feel temperatures lower than we had ever felt before – single digits and below-zero with wind. After two or three days of purposely cozy restaurant dining, we craved something simple and nourishing for body and soul. Since our vacation apartment had a kitchen, we decided to make chicken and vegetable soup.
The biggest challenge was getting a big-enough pot, but we walked a couple miles in blowing snow to a downtown cookware shop, where happily the cookware was all on sale. Ah January! Then back “home” by way of a food store. If you’ve ever bought groceries in foreign countries, you know that nothing you take for granted may be quite the same. Over time, though, we found a whole chicken plus a fairly “normal” collection of fresh vegetables.
Actually, I’m mistaken. The biggest challenge was NOT finding a terrific soup pot. The biggest challenge was bringing it home with us on the plane. For that single day at least, my motto had to be: No Pot Left Behind.
MONTREAL CHICKEN & VEGETABLE SOUP
This recipe tracks the soup in the photo, but any kind of vegetable combination you like is almost guaranteed to turn out awesome. Cubed potatoes make a bowl of this soup more filling, while green peas are a nifty touch too. Kidney beans add protein. Yes, here we do let the chicken make its own stock. But you can speed up the process by using meat from rotisserie chicken and, yes, canned chicken broth.
1 whole uncooked chicken
1 large onion, chopped (thin skin preserved)
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup cut green beans
1 cup kernel corn
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1 cup cooked kidney beans
½ cup Fischer & Wieser’s Special Marinara
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
Salt and black pepper
Place the chicken in a large pot and cover with water. Add about half the onion, celery and carrot, along with the onion skin to give the stock color. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 2 hours. Strain out stock and let cool, collecting whatever fat gathers on top. After the chicken is cool enough to handle, use fingers or fork to remove meat. Discard boiled vegetables.
Clean out the pot and set on medium-high flame. Heat the oil and saute the remaining onion, celery and carrot. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the beans, corn, mushrooms and kidney beans, stirring briefly, then pour in the chicken stock and marinara. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, add Italian seasoning and simmer until flavors meld, about 1 hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 10-12 servings.