It all begins with broth. If you have broth, you have the foundation of soup. If the broth is homemade, even better.
Chicken broth is simple to make, and by chicken broth I mean any broth made from poultry — chicken, duck, goose, or turkey. These broths are the most versatile for soups. To make homemade chicken broth, first cover cooked bones, raw bones, or raw chicken parts with water. Add an onion (or a leek, or leek greens), garlic, celery, and parsley if you have it, and let these simmer (not boil) for a couple of hours. Then, strain the broth and pressure can it, freeze it, or make soup within the week.
The bones you use can be from last night’s roast or the Thanksgiving turkey. If you like, accumulate leftover carcasses and bones in the freezer until you’re ready to make broth. I like to roast my chickens and turkeys flat (also called “butterflied” or “spatchcocked”) with the backbones removed, so that’s the part I save up. I also find frozen packages of backbones at my local butcher. When I’m out of backbones and carcasses but in need of broth, I use dark meat, bone-in thighs because they make the most flavorful broth. They’re also less expensive than white meat parts.
As for the vegetables that flavor the broth, I use what are called “aromatic” vegetables — onions, garlic, leeks, celery, and parsley. I avoid carrots and parsnips because they can be too sweet. I want to make a rich broth that adds a fairly neutral flavor because I want the flavors of the vegetables I use in the soup to shine.
It does take time to make broth — time, but not attention. After the ingredients are all in the pot and simmering, you can pretty much ignore the broth as it cooks, which makes it an easy project for an evening or a weekend. The longer you simmer the bones, the more concentrated the flavor will be. When cooled, a good broth will have a gelled consistency. If the broth boils instead of simmers, it will be cloudy rather than clear. But in the soup recipes that follow, the appearance of the broth isn’t important. Also, a layer of yellow fat should appear on top of the broth. This can be skimmed off and reserved as a substitute for oil in a savory recipe.
Don’t have the time or freezer space to make broth? You can find some surprisingly good bouillon pastes (not cubes or powder) and some flavorful (but relatively expensive) boxed broth. And although the recipes here have been tested with chicken broth, they’d be equally good with beef, pork, or a neutral-tasting vegetable broth. The key here is “neutral-tasting.” Some vegetable broths taste like carrots or mushrooms or tomatoes and can result in a soup with flavors that aren’t quite harmonious.
I’m all about vegetables, so I like to either feature one vegetable in a soup or combine a lot of vegetables to make a minestrone-type soup. The recipes with fresh vegetables here showcase just one at a time, celebrating under-appreciated winter produce.
Try These Winter Soups with Vegetables: