Dinner, Improvised: A Little Bit of Everything Soup

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The soup pot is, to this cook, what a blank canvas is to a painter. While I have a few go-to soup recipes (like this one), I often find myself throwing a bunch of stuff in a pot, saying a silent prayer to the food gods, and hoping for the best. Experience has taught me that f you have a vague idea of how to combine flavors and have the patience to simmer something at low heat till all the bits are tender but not mushy, you can whip up a soup on the fly.

Here are some tips to make a wonderful, comforting pot of improvised soup:

  • Sauté aromatics in a little fat first. This is your foundation for greatness.
  • If you’re using raw meat, add it at the beginning with the aromatics and brown it, but not all the way. It will cook as the soup simmers.
  • Yes, of course homemade stock is best, but a good-quality carton of chicken broth will do the job, and honestly—who cares?  Even water will work as your broth base, as long as you season as you cook. Whatever liquid you choose, always add a bay leaf. It makes a very subtle but positive difference.
  • Use vegetables of similar texture and chop them all about the same size so they cook at the same rate. Water heavy or quick-cooking veggies, like zucchini or peas, should be added in the last 10-15 minutes of cooking.
  • Add salt, but taste as you go. An over-salted soup is not easily rescued by the addition of a potato. You can always add more salt at the table.
  • Almost any soup not made with cream will taste even better the day after you make it. Really.
  • Be creative! This is an opportunity to try out new ingredients, use up the stuff in your crisper drawers, clear your pantry, and make something amazing and delicious.

Unfortunately I can’t share a recipe for the soup in the picture because I didn’t measure anything exactly, and I think it’s unfair to eyeball-estimate from memory. But I can tell you what’s in it, and that everything together made a very hearty, bone-warming, out-of-the-ordinary soup.

Cast, in order of addition:

Extra virgin olive oil, fresh turkey sausage, garlic, vidalia onion, carrot, parsnip, celery, rutabaga, sweet potato, tomato paste, Whole Foods 365 Chicken broth, red kidney beans, fresh thyme, fresh parsley, fresh rosemary, escarole, salt, black pepper, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Go forth, simmer away and enjoy!