Monday, August 2, 2010

Soup to Nuts

When the frost is on the pumpkin, then it’s time for the soup bumpkin ... OK, I’m not quite a bumpkin, but my wife does accuse me of overcooking my vegetable-beef soup. She makes a delicious, fresh, crisp version of said soup, whereas mine tends to be comfortably overdone almost to the point of mushiness. So let me give my version here and she can riposte me later in this blog (actually, it would be higher up). I consider a few things to be essential to a good vegetable soup … lots of meaty beef shank bones with plenty of marrow … and cabbage. Both provide the essence of vegetable soup. After that, there is lots of leeway as to what goes in this soup. Here’s how I make it:

In a large pot place about a quarter cup of good olive oil. Heat this up and add three or four meaty beef shank bones (well salted and peppered) and maybe a few more just plain marrow bones. When this is well browned, add two large diced onions, four minced garlic cloves, three or four diced carrots, an equal number of diced celery stalks, and a tablespoon of tomato paste. Stir this around to brown lightly. Next fill this pot to 2/3rds full with cold water. Follow this with at least a quarter of a cabbage head shredded. (This can be a Savoy cabbage … but not a red cabbage.)

Add a handful of salt, about five allspice berries, seven peppercorns, three bay leaves and a bouquet garni. Bring this up to a slow boil, cover, and simmer about an hour until the meat starts to tenderize. And then add about four cleaned and diced Russet potatoes. Cook about another 15 minutes. It is now time for the rest of the vegetables. I like string beans, wax beans, broccoli, zucchini, fresh peas (if available), and a can of good crushed tomatoes (Muir Glen). I don’t like to add any peppers, corn, or turnips as I think they add a slightly bitter taste to things. The amount of the vegetables I mentioned will depend on how much room you have in the pot. (At this point you can add pasta or noodles ... but don't go overboard. I would suggest orzo , broken-up capellini or schnittnudeln.) Now, here is where my wife and I diverge. She would cook it only for about five or ten more minutes. I like to cook it for about another half hour.

When fully cooked, remove the shank and marrow bones and de-bone, de-gristle, and chop up the meat and clean out the bones’ marrow. Add all these good things back into the soup and remove the bouquet garni and the bay leaves. Now, comes my secret. (Don’t tell my wife.) I like to add about a quarter to a half cup of Heinz tomato catsup. Mix well and serve hot with lots of crusty bread and butter. It should serve a small army. And I think you will find that it tastes even better reheated the next day.

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