‘Tis the blessed season of soup, one of the holiest times in the Tammy calendar. It’s the time of year a high temp one day can be 80 and the next it’s 45. I check the weather channel for fluctuations and when the forecast predicts highs in the low 60s for a consecutive 7 day period- it is time to make the pilgrimage to the fridge and freezer for ingredients for my famous (ok it’s just famous to me) waste not soup. I call it waste not because I ‘waste not’ food.
I squirrel away bits of pasta, leftover broccoli, corn, peas, and green beans in the freezer. I even save the juice from olives or roasted red peppers in a jar in the fridge. And on the first day of the 60-degree week, EVERY food falls victim to the soup pot- the droopy carrots, the bag of wilted spinach, the limp celery that has begun to sprout new growth, the heel of a tomato. “Oh no here she comes!!” scream the strands of leftover spaghetti, “We should have slithered down the drain instead of staying in the colander!” “Ha! Too late now me maties,” yells the soup pot, lidless and yawning wide, “IN ya go! HAR HAR HAR!!”
I start with a little EVOO (extra virgin olive oil- thank you Rachel Ray) in the pot and add chopped onion and garlic (sometimes the fuzz has to be scraped off —but onion and garlic rarely truly rot) . After things are sizzling, I toss in a few tablespoons full of flour and stir that around then dump in a can of tomatoes (with green chilies or Italian style) give that a stir and then proceed with all my “victims” from the freezer and fridge. Before long I have a delicious bubbly concoction that honestly scents the entire house. If The Yankee Candle Company could create a scented candle that smelled like homemade vegetable soup I bet they’d sell a million of them.
Not only is soup nutritious, delicious and healthy, making it, to me, is something that approaches a religious experience. The chopping is a stress buster, stirring is soothing, the creation of a something delicious from scraps of food caters to my creativity. It’s cold outside but I can create the warmth of a summer day right there in my little kitchen. Never is there a time I make soup that I am not fully into it—soup as therapy, soup as nutrition— soup as zen.
And what is soup without a topping? Today’s topping is croutons made of a leftover round of crusty bread. I cube up the last of it, toss with some olive oil, and spread the cubes on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and a the last tablespoon of Italian salad dressing. Toast em up in the oven and hope they make it to the soup. Because croutons are quite tasty when they come from the oven all fresh and hot.
Then comes the best part. The tasting. I ladle out just a little in a small saucer just to test the seasoning. I remember so vividly watching my pawpaw Manes sip his steaming coffee from a saucer- I think this may have something to do with why I prefer to taste-test my soup this way. Ladling into a saucer cools the soup quickly so I can taste and then get on with the seasoning or adding more sugar (you have to add sugar to canned tomatoes or they’re bitter when cooked) or a pinch more salt or pepper. If I am feeling the least little bit under the weather, I’ll add a dash of Texas Pete to my saucer full of soup. Between the hot soup going down and the Texas Pete going up my nose, a cold doesn’t have a chance.
Could there be anything better than hot soup on a cold ,windy or rainy winter day? Could there be anything nicer than fragrant scent steaming your face and a hot bowl warming cold hands? Could perfection be improved upon? Why, yes it can be, if you happen to have a couple of slices of day old wheat bread and a slice of cheese, you can make a fried grill cheese sandwich. Be sure to make it in a frying pan. Get some butter sizzling in an iron skillet, slap the cheese between two slices of old bread, slather on more butter and make a fried sandwich. THEN you must cut the grilled cheese into strips and dip the strips in the hot soup. Heaven!
I remember my Granny Manes’ vegetable soup- but her veggies came from fresh from the garden not from a can, or fridge or freezer. My daddy makes good soup. Last time I was home he made a broccoli and tomato soup. My favorite daddy soup is spinach, and cream of mushroom. I don’t know how he makes these two ingredients into such an outstanding feast. And usually my mama makes flat cornbread in a small iron skillet to go with our soup. It is honestly the best cornbread I have ever tasted. It’s flat and simple, corn meal and water – it’s not thick and light-it’s dense and crispy and I wish I had some right this second with a good thick coating of butter.
“Do you have a kinder, more adaptable friend in the food world than soup? Who soothes you when you are ill? Who refuses to leave you when you are impoverished and stretches its resources to give a hearty sustenance and cheer? Who warms you in the winter and cools you in the summer? Yet who also is capable of doing honor to your richest table and impressing your most demanding guests? Soup does its loyal best, no matter what undignified conditions are imposed upon it. You don’t catch steak hanging around when you’re poor and sick, do you?”
Judith Martin (Miss Manners)
And I believe that just about says it all