Home Cooking with Mary Ann Esposito: homemade soups

An old proverb states that “worries go down better with soup.” Soup is the antidote for so many things-more than justwhen we are under the weather with a cold or flu. For my grandmothers, always having a pot of simmering chicken soup was a ritual. They saw it as a staple dish-not just to warm us when old man winter came calling, but to enjoy and keep us healthy all year long. There was nothing that a bowl of soup could not make better. It was culinary magic.Soup can be more than a flavored broth. Soup has character that a cook can build upon and change with whatever ingredients are on hand.Real soup is so easy to make that, for the life of me, I don’t know why canned soup exists with all its artificial ingredients. We have all heard of “kitchen sink soup.” You can make it just by cleaning out your refrigerator. Those forgotten vegetables that have lost their shine and crunch are perfect for the soup pot. That half an onion, those limp stalks of celery and that lonely looking container of leftover rice can enrich soup. I even use the rinds from Parmigiano Reggiano cheese to flavor soup.One of the most important things to remember when making soup is to start with a good stock. To make it, either use the bones from a leftover roast chicken or start with a fresh bird. Toss in a couple of carrots, an onion, some celery and a bouquet garni of mixed fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, rosemary and tarragon tied together with kitchen string. Cover everything with water, bring to a boil, and then lower the heat and let the stock simmer. Season to taste at the end of the cooking process.When making any kind of soup, remember to cook just at a simmer, with bubbles barely visible at the edges of the soup pot. This ensures that all the flavor stays in the pot and does not evaporate into thin air (as the flavor would if the soup were cooking at a rapid boil).Most soups get better with age, and many (except for cream-based soups) freeze well, so they can be lifesavers when you are pressed for time. And as another old proverb says, “Better no spoon than no soup.”Zuppa di Verdure Arrostite (Chunky Roasted Vegetable Soup)Mom made her version of a “kitchen sink soup” with vegetables gone limp that she cleaned out of the refrigerator. And while her soups were always delicious, I introduced her to a new way of getting more flavor by roasting the veggies first. The natural sugars caramelize as they cook, providing a greater depth of flavor. It’s a nice feeling when you can teach your mom something new.Serves 84 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided4 cloves garlic, minced1 large leek, white part only, well washed and thinly sliced1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper1/2 teaspoons celery seed2 teaspoons dried oregano3 small red-skin potatoes, cut into chunks3 large peeled carrots or parsnips, cut into chunks2 cups broccoli florets4 ribs celery, cut into chunks1 large red onion, peeled and cut into chunks4 cups tomato juice1/2 cup white wine1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley2 sprigs fresh thymeJuice of one lemon1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large soup pot (4 quart). Add the garlic and leeks, and cook over medium-high heat until the leeks are very soft. Turn off the heat.2. Combine the salt, pepper, celery seed and oregano in a large bowl. Add the potatoes, carrots, broccoli, celery and onion, and toss the veggies well in the mixture. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of the oil to the veggies and coat well.3. Transfer the veggies to a rimmed baking sheet, keeping them in a single layer. Roast for about 30 minutes, turning them once or twice.4. Add the roasted vegetables, tomato juice and wine to the soup pot. Tie the parsley and thyme together with kitchen cooking string and add to the pot.5. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then lower the heat to simmer and cook for 25 minutes. Remove and discard the parsley and thyme.6. Stir in the lemon juice; correct the seasoning, adding more salt if desired. Serve piping hot with crusty bread and a salad.Recipe from Ciao Italia Family ClassicsGrandma’s Chicken Soup”Una gallina vecchia fa buon brodo.” That’s what my grandmother used to say, and she was right: an old hen made good broth because it had more fat. But it also has tough muscles and needed to be stewed, not roasted, so its meat would be tender. Since chicken is pretty much uniformly processed in this country, it might be harder to find an old hen-unless you have access to a chicken farmer. Whole chicken from your favorite grocery store will work just fine.Serves 42 large all-purpose potatoes, well scrubbed2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oilOne 3½ pound whole chicken, rinsed well and patted dry1 onion, peeled10 whole cloves garlic1 whole bay leaf1 small bunch parsley, thyme, rosemary or tarragon, tied with kitchen cooking string2 carrots, peeled and cut into quarters2 ribs celery, cut into quarters2 cups peeled and diced plum tomatoes, or one 16-ounce-can diced tomatoesFine sea salt, to tasteGrinding black pepper1. Microwave the potatoes until tender. Cool, then peel and dice them; set aside.In a soup pot, heat the olive oil and brown the chicken on all sides over medium heat. Stud the onion with the cloves and add to the pot. Add the bay leaf, parsley, carrots, celery and tomatoes.2. Slowly pour in enough cold water just to cover all the ingredients. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer the chicken until fork tender and falling apart at the bone.3. Using a wide-slotted spoon, remove the chicken to a cutting board. Remove the onion, bay leaf and parsley, and discard.4. Remove the carrots and celery, cut into small pieces and return to the broth.5. Remove the chicken from the bones, cut into chunks and return to the broth. Add the potatoes to the broth. Season with salt and pepper. Reheat gently, and serve hot in soup bowls.Recipe from Ciao Italia Family ClassicFish ChowderIn this fish chowder, haddock stands as the star. Ladling out this delicacy always brings me great satisfaction, because it can be made in less than 30 minutes but looks like it took some time. Quality is key, so buy the freshest fish. That means the fish looks plump and does not smell of ammonia.Serves 83 tablespoons olive oil1/4 pound pancetta, diced1 medium red onion, peeled and diced1 clove garlic, minced1 teaspoon hot-red pepper flakes or hot-red pepper paste1 1/2 pounds fresh haddock (no head), skinned and cut into 1-inch pieces1 pound spinach, washed and drained with stems discarded and leaves shredded1¾ cups homemade chicken broth or one can light chicken broth (14 1/2 ounces)1 can low-fat evaporated milk (12 ounces)1 cup fresh or frozen peas1/3 cup minced fresh thyme or basilSalt, to taste1. Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat and cook the pancetta until it begins to brown. Stir in the onions and cook until the onions soften. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes or paste, and continue cooking until the garlic softens.2. Lower the heat to medium and add the haddock. Stir gently for a few minutes.3. Add the spinach, chicken broth and evaporated milk. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil and then reduce the heat to simmer. The fish and spinach will cook in less than 5 minutes. As soon as the fish is opaque (white in color), add the peas. Cover and cook 1 minute.4. Remove from heat. Stir in the thyme and basil. Add salt to taste and serve very hot with crusty ciabatta bread drizzled with a good extra-virgin olive oil.Recipe from Ciao Italia Family Classics