I sometimes use recipes for soups but mostly I create one from what’s on hand that day in my fridge and pantry. A good but basic, no-frills soup starts with the primary soup vegetables — onions, carrots, celery, leeks — plus a suitable legume like flagolets or any of the white beans. The other important ingredient is, of course, homemade chicken stock (see Sally’s post on stockmaking). This soup comes out best when made with a rich tasting broth, one that’s been reduced a bit to deepen its flavor.
When I make this soup I don’t usually pay attention to quanities, so bear with me as I try to put this into a recipe form. The important part about quanities here is not so much how many leeks or carrots, but the ratio of vegetables to stock. I puree about 2/3 of the vegetables at the end, so if I start with too much stock the soup ends up being thin. It’s supposed to be thick and chunky, kind of like a chowder, only made with vegetables.
1 to 2 cups dried flagolets or white beans, soaked overnight, then cooked until almost done (I add generous salt at this point and let them sit while preparing the vegetables)
2 or 3 carrots, peeled and diced
4 to 6 stalks of celery, diced (you can peel the outer stalks if you want)
1 or 2 onions, chopped
3 to 5 leeks, properly clean, 3/4 of green top discarded (use for stock), then sliced
Enough stock to cover vegetables and beans by about 2 inches.
Fresh parsley, finely chopped
Cook the vegetables and legumes in the stock until tender, about half an hour. I am constantly tasting the broth. After the vegetables have cooked for a while the broth should begin to pick up some of their taste; add salt as needed, and if the broth taste a bit thin, let the soup cook without the cover. Let soup cool a bit then puree anywhere from 1/2 to 2/3 of the vegetables in a food processor. Return the puree to the soup, add parsley, freshly ground pepper, and check for salt.
So that’s the basic soup. But you don’t have to stop there. If I’ve just made a pot of chicken stock, I’ll often add cooked chicken to the soup, which makes it more substantial. I sometimes add a potato or two, and sometimes I’ll add some sort of leafy green, like kale or chard. With a good bread (see post on slow-rise bread), a simple green salad, and a glass of red wine, this makes a very good weeknight supper!