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Whenever I’m at a loss as to what I should make for dinner, I make a pot of soup. I appreciate the fact that you can make something warming and filling with just a few ingredients and I love the fact that a batch of soup nearly always yields enough for lunch the next day.
In fact, we eat so much soup around my house that in late January, my husband asked for a soup break. Looking back, I realized that we’d eaten a batch or two every week since November. Once I figured out just how much soup I’d been feeding him, I was fine with taking a little rest.
Nearly all my soups start out the same way: I saute onions, leeks or shallots in a bit of olive oil and then start adding whatever other vegetables are in my fridge that need to be used. Then there’s the liquid. I use stock if there’s some to be had, or water with a little bouillon concentrate or a splash of wine for flavor.
Finally, salt, pepper, herbs and a long, slow simmer. Unless I’m working with tough cuts of meat that need a lot of cooking, the last thing I add is protein — like slivers of chicken breast, beans or little cubes of ham — to prevent it from overcooking or falling to bits.
The one problem with my soup formula is that all my batches essentially begin to taste the same. I find myself seeking out new-to-me soup recipes, in the hopes that I’ll be able to bring fresh nuance and flavor to my weekly concoctions. It was this search that led me to Rachael Ray’s recipe for Creamy Winter Vegetable Soup, after the soup reprieve in my house ended, of course.
What I like about this recipe is that it after filling the pot with vegetables, white wine and chicken stock, it relies on a quick bechamel sauce for creaminess and body. I leave the bulk of my soups brothy and was pleased with how the white sauce made for a smooth bowl of soup that still felt fairly light and healthful. If you’re looking for a nice way to warm up, I highly suggest making a batch of this soup for your Weekender.
Before you start cooking, read these tips:
— Despite the long list of ingredients, this soup comes together quite quickly, particularly if your knife skills are good. I would recommend getting the first couple ingredients chopped before heating up your pan; otherwise you run the risk of scorching your garlic.
— Feel free to customize the vegetable balance. My husband is not a fan of butternut squash, so I left it out of my batch.
— Rachael has you leave this soup chunky. If you have picky eaters in your house, however, I think it would be a safer bet to puree the whole thing so that the fennel is indistinguishable from the leeks. No one will be the wiser.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, is now available.