I want to talk about soup. Some say soup is a cold weather dish, but I think it's just seasonal. In winter, I make stews; in summer, I make soups. It's just another way to eat the delightful treats we get at the market around this time.
The thing about soup is you can make it with almost anything you have in the fridge, as long as you have stock. Stock is dead easy to make. Here's what you do: get some chicken parts. Use raw parts; I know it's tempting to use the rest of that roast chicken carcass, but it just doesn't taste nice.
Go to the store and get what's on sale — wings, legs and whatever other parts they have — any bits, as long as they appear reasonably consumable and weigh about three-fourths of a pound to 1 ¼ pounds. Of course, finer quality meat makes tastier stock, but do what you can. Using less chicken results in slightly weaker stock. Go ahead and make twice as much if chicken is on sale. Hearts and necks are fine, but liver's not. If you are making a dinner from the whole chicken, save the neck, wing tips and giblets for stock; they'll only make about a cup and a half on their own, but you also can save them for a larger pot. Don't just put fatty skin in. You need bones and meat or the stock will taste like bad, bad Chinese food. If there are bones, bash 'em with a meat hammer or heavy knife before they go in the pot so the yummy marrow goes in the mix.
Brown all chicken parts in a deep, heavy bottomed pot with 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium flame. You'll need to let the chicken rest undisturbed for several minutes and gingerly lift a bit to see if it's coloring. It will take five to eight minutes to get nice and browned. Rotate the chicken. Loosen up all the brown bits with a spoon so they don't burn.
Throw in half of a chopped onion, a bay leaf, a few sprigs of parsley, maybe half of a celery rib and a carrot. The last two have strong flavors, so go easy. Then pour in at least 6 cups of water, making sure the chicken is well covered. Simmer, DON'T BOIL, for at least 45 minutes and up to two hours. Pour the stock through a strainer. If you're worried about fat, chill the strained stock and remove the solidified layer of fat with a spoon.
Vegetable stock is easy, too, but you can mess up by using strongly flavored herbs and vegetables; I loathe the taste of celery in veggie stock, although many people love it. Cruciferous vegetables can make stock smell bad. Instead, you can save the green ends of leeks and toss one in. Start by coarsely chopping a well-scrubbed potato, two carrots, one onion and five to 10 button mushrooms (not totally necessary).
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium high heat, and toss in the veggies and three or four cloves of unpeeled garlic. Stir once to coat them in the oil and let them sit for five minutes to brown. Stir them again and brown them for at least five more minutes. The longer you brown, the better. Add a small handful of parsley stems and 6 cups of water. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Strain and season. Do this often enough so you have stock when you need it. This large batch is enough to serve four.
PHEW! We have stock. Now the world of quick soup is open to us! Revel in our freedom to use almost every vegetable languishing in the crisper to quickly make nourishing and delicious soup!