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Monday, February 18, 2008

Clean-the-Fridge Soup

Here's the thing: if you're like me, you periodically look in the fridge and think that there's not much that looks too appetizing, but there sure is a goodly handful of sad-looking, limp, wilty, slightly shriveled, or otherwise unsightly vegetables. Or else, the veggies are reasonably fresh, but you only have 8 green beans, 3 florets of broccoli, 1/2 a crookneck squash, and other similarly puny amounts of various things--and you just made stir fry the night before so that's not an option. I'm here to tell you that the recipe for the night doesn't have to be take-out. Instead, you can make one of the following. The first is a soup that will use up your green or pale yellow veggies. The second is a better choice if you've got dark orange or red veggies, or a combination of greens and reds, to use up. (And, yes, in our house, we ate the first soup last night for dinner. It was yummy.)

Please note that neither of these is a super-gourmand recipe. But both are tasty, filling, healthy, forgiving of substitutions, and (best of all) handy for cleaning out those veggie drawers.

Clean-the-Fridge Soup #1
Leek and Potato (and Mystery Veg) Soup

Leek and Potato is quite a forgiving soup because it's pureed. And we all know you can hide all sorts of things in a puree. So, here are the proportions I suggest.

1 onion
2-3 leeks (depending on size)
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp olive oil
1 lb. potatoes of any type
1 cup white wine (optional)
vegetable stock (can be made from stock cubes)
2-4 cups mystery veg -- any combination of the following: zucchini, summer squash, spinach*, celery*, asparagus*, broccoli*, sugar peas*, parsnip*, dark leafy greens such as collards* or swiss chard
salt and pepper
milk (optional)

*These vegetables have a fairly strong flavor that will take over from the leek/potato combination if you use 4 cups of them, so that you will be eating something more like Cream of Broccoli if you go with 4 cups of broccoli. But, if you just have a smidgen left of any of these, you can toss it in along with some zucchini or other more mild veg, or with several smidges of different kinds even of the strong-flavored ones, and still end up with a recognizably Leek and Potato soup. Or, just tell your family you've made Cream of Broccoli, and don't bother mentioning that your recipe includes a few potatoes and a sad little leek or two. They'll never know the difference.

I probably don't have to tell you that if any of these veggies are fresh and lovely, you might as well save them for something more impressive, like a stir fry or al dente pasta with fresh greenery. But I'll say it anyway. Choose the wiltiest things you've got that are green--the ones that are so much NOT lookers that really they can only be served pureed, and go with those. I've even used zucchini whose skin was starting to get those pre-molding pock-marks on it, and just peeled them and thrown them in. It's amazing how much useable vegetable you can find under a slightly icky skin, if you just bother to look.

Chop onion, leeks (be sure to clean them carefully), and garlic, and sautee briefly in the olive oil. Once they're softened a bit, toss in potatoes and all the other vegetables, the wine (if you choose), and just enough water to barely cover the vegetables. Then add enough stock cubes for the amount of water you've used (probably something like three cubes). Cover and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer about 20 minutes or until all veggies and potatoes are very soft. Use your immersion blender (if you don't have one, read below) to puree the whole pot full. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you like very thick soup, you can stop now. If you prefer it a bit thinner or creamier, add up to two cups of milk (add 1/2 cup at a time, and stir thoroughly to reach desired flavor/consistency). If you want to make this soup ahead of time, do everything up through the puree part, and then set aside or chill (depending on how long you need to keep it). Add milk (if desired) and heat through--but do NOT boil again once milk is added--just before serving.

Clean-the-Fridge Soup #2
Vegetable Noodle Soup

This soup has a tomato base, which is preferable for orange or red veggies. It's not a pureed soup, but it is still highly suitable for wilty looking things. I wouldn't put in anything very leafy, since that won't look so nice. Also, take a bit more time with the chopping here, since you won't be pureeing it.

1 onion, minced fine
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp olive oil
1 cup any type small pasta (orzo, rings, alphabet letters, macaroni)
1 cup white wine (optional)
1 (15 oz) can crushed tomatoes
vegetable stock (can be made from stock cubes)
4-6 cups assorted veg, neatly chopped -- any combination of the following: carrots, celery, green beans, red or green peppers, asparagus, corn, sugar snap peas, lima beans, okra, etc.
1 can navy or garbanzo beans, if you don't have that much assorted veg available
any random bits of cooked chicken, beef, or sausage that are leftover in the fridge (optional)
salt and pepper

Sautee onion and garlic briefly in the olive oil. Once they're softened a bit, toss in all the other vegetables, the pasta, the wine and meat (if you choose), and the crushed tomatoes. Then add enough water to cover everything in the pot plus two cups (the pasta will absorb some of this), and about three stock cubes (or whatever is appropriate for the amount of water you've used). Cover and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer about 10 minutes or until the pasta is cooked through and the veggies are not yet mushy. It is important to stir this soup a few times as it's cooking, so that the pasta doesn't just cook to the bottom of the pan. If you want to get all fancy with this one, and you have vegetables that take different amounts of time to cook to that al dente stage you love, you can put the pasta in first for a couple of minutes, and stagger your additions of veg according to how long they'll take to cook. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve with crusty bread.

A note on the immersion blender: Buy One. It will change your life. I promise. I got the Cuisinart Smart Stick for Christmas, and I have made pureed soups and sauces every week since. It's heaven. I had no idea how empty my kitchen had once been until I owned this gadget. But if you don't have one and need to make a pureed soup tonight, you can always do the pureeing part in a food processor or blender. Just be very careful not to fill the blender more than 1/2 full, so that the boiling soup doesn't blow everywhere. Also, you'll need a large bowl or pan to put the pureed stuff into, since you'll have to puree in batches. And THIS is why I love the immersion blender -- because instead of taking apart the whole blender to wash it, AND washing the second bowl/pan that I'm using to hold the pureed soup while I continue to work in batches on the rest, with an immersion blender, I just pop the stick into the cooking pot, puree the whole thing, and I'm done.

Happy Soup Eating!


lattemommy said...

I love, love, love my immersion blender. What did the world do before they invented those?

MIQuilter said...

I have a quick hint if you want a creamy veggie soup.... rather than adding plain milk, use evaporated milk (NOT sweetened condensed!!). The evaporated milk has stabilizers that had to be added for the canning process and these stabilizers prevent it from curdling :)

stephanie said...

I'm all about clean-out-the fridge meals! If my veggies aren't too far gone, I tend to sautee them in olive oil, add tomato sauce and make clean-out-the-fridge pasta. I'll definitely have to try your soup recipes, though. Thanks for the tips!

Nicole said...

Urgh - can you rephrase the title?
That reminds me too much of the Hotel where I did my training.
And there we really DID clean the fridge.
People always loved the soup, so did I until I worked in said kitchen for 5 months.......


MommyTime said...

LatteMommy, BIM (Before Immersion Blenders) I think we just ate crummy soup. :)

MIQ, thanks for the excellent tip. I will now start keeping cans of evaporated milk in my cupboard for just this purpose.

Yes, Stephanie, I like that too. But the veggies have to be a bit fresher, you're right.

Nicole, sorry. The title was supposed to be a little funny -- not too gross. But having worked in restaurants myself, I can see how it could also be pretty icky. I don't think I want to know what went into your hotel's soup. Perhaps we could rename this: Quick Veggie Soup instead?


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