LIKE THE BEST RECIPES, it’s a hand-me-down, delivered in the best oral tradition: told to me over a meal, and recorded on a paper napkin. At breakfast with my old friend Irene Sax recently—a longtime food writer, and my former “Newsday” colleague—I was panicking about my late-summer vegetable glut, and she said: “Vegetable soup. I make it all the time, freeze it, and eat it every day for lunch.” And then I realized: I don’t know how to make proper vegetable soup. Or didn’t, until then. The extra-easy recipe.
Yes, of course I make vegetable soups: onion soup, split pea, lentil, sweet potato-greens, carrot-ginger, and so on. But a less-specific catch-all “vegetable soup” wasn’t in my repertory. Irene (who co-wrote “Beard on Pasta” with James Beard, and now teaches food writing at NYU) fixed that.
Irene’s Vegetable Soup, My Way
(I say “my way” because the “recipe” on that napkin didn’t actually give proportions of anything, just, “diced onions, celery, carrots…” and because Irene says, “zucchini doesn’t add much to the mix” so she skips it. Me? I’m looking for ways to use up my summer-squash harvest at the moment. When I showed her the photo, Irene said, “Mine is redder,” meaning more tomatoes, and that’s the point: Balance the “recipe” according to your taste, and the garden’s offerings.)
- Olive oil
- 2 or 3 medium onions, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 3 or 4 carrots, diced (about half a typical bag)
- 3 or 4 celery stalks, chopped
- Broccoli or cauliflower, about 2 cups chopped small
- Kale or chard or collards or a mix, maybe 6 big leaves, stems removed and foliage chopped
- Summer squash, 1-2 cups diced
- Shell beans, such as cannellini or chick peas (1-2 cups, pre-cooked)
- Tomatoes, ripe raw ones, or large can of whole plum types
- Parsley and basil, chopped, to taste
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Green beans, fresh (cut up if large)
- Into a large pot (such as for boiling spaghetti, or a deeper stockpot) pour enough olive oil to saute onions and garlic.
- When the alliums are translucent, add carrots and celery, and cook until just tender.
- Add diced zucchini next, then broccoli, covering to allow them to cook slightly.
- When squash is tender, add leafy greens and herbs; cover briefly to let them wilt.
- Add tomatoes and pre-cooked garbanzos or cannellini beans, cover again.
- When tomatoes start to soften, add water to cover the entire mixture plus about a half-inch, cover the pot to bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer. (I underdo the water because I can always dilute the broth later, but freezer space is precious.)
- The soup will be done when it looks and tastes done—an hour or a couple of hours, your call. When it is almost there, I add the green beans for the final 15 or 30 minutes of cooking time, along with some salt and pepper and extra water to cover them if needed. No surprise: Irene adds her green beans earlier. What will your variation be?
WHEN SERVING, add some or all of these. Served with good bread, it’s a meal. I like mine with:
- a dollop of pesto
- grated parmesan cheese
- a drizzle of good-quality olive oil
- slightly undercooked pasta (add it when reheating; don’t let it sit in the soup)
- more beans; garbanzos really are delightful in this soup
- a crostini (toasted bread with cheese, perhaps, or spread with the pesto), sort of a giant crouton