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Waste not, want good soups not (vegetable stock)

November 19, 2010

Living alone, it’s a real hassle making sure that all my fresh vegetables go to good use before they turn into mushy, mealy lumps peppered with dents and brown spots.  Despite my awareness of this problem, I can’t help ending up with huge supplies of veggies.  The stands and stands of fresh produce glowing in their bright reds and oranges and greens lure me into a trance each and every time I find myself at the store.  And since those occurrences are rare, my late grammy’s hoarding tendencies come out something fierce the instant my eyes meet a bundle of pencil thin asparagus.  ‘You must have those.  Plus 3 each of every type of onion.  And don’t forget a bunch of bananas or seven in case Julie or Bob stop by,’ my internal Grammy impels me.  Granted, I eat an inordinate amount of vegetables, so some overbuying is called for.  But in the hall of the veggie king, I must envision myself packing in a daily cornucopia of greens bookended between a stalk of broccoli for breakfast and a few radishes as a midnight dessert.  And we all know I’m never deserting that leftover birthday cake for radishes.

So what to do about those all-too-quickly-wilting asparagus sticks?  Enter stock.  The budget- and environment-conscious vegetarian’s answer to all of life’s problems.  Or at least all of life’s problems relating to my refrigerator.  I still haven’t found a way to get stock to solve my current research woes.  By throwing everything into a stockpot and forgetting about it for an hour or two, you can eliminate your food waste and create a base infinitely more delicious than the bland, over-salted concoctions found in tetra briks for $4 a pop.  Even frozen away in 2-4 cup increments, waiting for you to turn it into a warm soup perfect for New England winters, homemade stock continues to save you money.  It’s like an old friend that keeps on giving.

Starting a permanent stock box in my fridge really helped me nail down rule #2 of our little club.  Vegetable shavings, droopy celery, corn cobs, those two extra zucchini out of the 9 I crazily bought at once (9! who needs 9 zucchini?!) – everything goes into the stock box.  You never have to throw anything away ever, which makes me immensely happy since I haven’t yet found a servant to walk the long way to the dumpster for me.  (Interested applicants may inquire below.)  Instead of those extras becoming a chore you never get around to, they become a base you can never keep enough of.

Vegetable Stock

Things to put in your stock box:

vegetable shavings, odds, and ends – you know, anything too ugly for actual consumption

wilted or dying vegetables

corn cobs

herb stems

What I consider necessities:

1 whole onion, peeled and quartered

At least 10 garlic cloves, cut in half (can leave peel on)

1 potato

Fresh bouquet garni (or in less fancy terms, whatever random fresh herbs you have lying around)

2 carrots (cut into 2-4 pieces)

2 celery stalks (cut into 2-4 pieces)

Salt and pepper, if desired

Look through stock box to make sure no pieces in your collection have gone off.  I’ll throw almost anything into a pot I’m going to boil for a couple hours, but I tend to draw the line at mold.  Throw everything semi-edible into a 6 quart stock pot.  Check the shelves in your fridge for vegetables that won’t last the battle until your next cooking day.  Or that half of a tomato you wrapped in a ziploc, thinking you’d add it to your sandwich tomorrow.  Chances are you won’t, so throw that sucker into the pot to die a slow, but meaningful, death with all its veggie friends.

One thing to remember – never add beet to your stock pot, unless you want a bloody mess of a stock.  And I’m not using ‘bloody’ in the British sense here; I literally mean that your stock will look as if you accidentally diced a finger into the mix.

Now that you’ve got your 6-quart pot pretty much filled with vegetable outcasts, add about 10 cups of water to fill the pot and cover all the veggies.  Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and cover.  Let simmer for anywhere from 1-2 hours.  Let broth cool before passing through a fine-mesh sieve to remove vegetables.  Lest the veggies take the most concentrated broth with them to their trash can/compost grave, I like to squeeze out some extra liquid using a spoon.

This “recipe” is extremely adaptable to whatever you have around.  I actually completely forgot the potato in this instance, and that’s fine.  It’s also almost this simple to throw together fish, chicken or beef stock for those so inclined.  Especially if, like Amanda, you’ve found a reason to butcher a whole chicken recently.

Stock stores well in the freezer for months, in the fridge for a few days.  If frozen, thaw overnight in the fridge before use.  I’ve used homemade stock with great success for more recipes than I can count, but the recipe used in the above soup is Deb’s great matzo ball soup – a great first recipe, because of its simplicity and the way it highlights the broth.

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