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.: June 2006 --> On risotto, stock, and soupmaking

On risotto, stock, and soupmaking

» After being on the road for nearly a month, it's a treat to prepare our own food again. Last night I was struck by how very simple some of our favorite meals are. We had brown rice risotto, a dish we usually have several times a month. It's simple, it's infinitely malleable, and it's delicious. And inexpensive: 1/2 cup of brown rice, 1/2 cup of arborio rice, 1/2 cup of white wine, 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, a shallot, and a quart of stock. With a green salad, this is a feast.

I made the vegetable stock in the afternoon, and it's simpler still. A few cloves of garlic, an onion, 2 carrots, 2 celery stalks, some salt and thyme, and parsley if you have it. It requires a few minutes of chopping, 10 minutes of sauteeing, 20 minutes of simmering, and that's it: 4 quarts of very flavorful stock in about half an hour. I freeze it in mason jars.

I must confess that I never use stock for my soups. Any soup that starts with onion, celery, and carrots or a similar combination is already creating its own stock as far as I'm concerned. And when I've experimented, I quite honestly can never taste the difference between a soup made with stock and one that uses only water. (A light, brothy soup would be the exception of course, but in my house soup is usually the meal.)

Now that Meg is food-blogging fulltime, I wish she'd do a feature on this. Does it really make a difference to use stock in soup? Are other people really that much more discerning than I am? Is it only important when using a meat-based stock in a soup that otherwise contains no meat? Does it make a difference for most kinds of soup? Or is this such an article of faith that most cookbook writers haven't thought through when and how a stock is essential to soupmaking?

 [ 06.16.06 ]


That's a great suggestion Rebecca and I will add your idea to my list of feature article ideas. It's something I've always wondered as well. My gut feeling is stock does make a difference, but I'd be happy to do some investigation and find out.

Also on the freezing of stock: I use 1 quart Ziplock freezer bags. They're great because you can lay them flat and pile them up, so a whole mess of stock takes up hardly any room in the freezer. Reminds me I must post on my site about that tip!

Also, I found the registration a bit confusing here. It looked like I could just make a normal post, like on other sites, but when I hit "Post" a got a message telling me I needed to register. Perhaps there's a way to make that clearer?

Thanks for the note, and I'm looking forward to the results of your experiments.

Sorry about the comments. When I turned them on again, I hit the wrong button. I'm still learning my way around MT. Everyone should be able to comment now.

I notice, though, that the post-comment template is all messed up now. Oh, MT, you harsh, harsh mistress....

I heart risotto. My best friend's mother is from Milan and she taught me to make it. Of course they use the stock of chickens but I agree it's so malleable. Her tip for really good risotto was the very careful spooning of stock to rice ratio. Making sure you don't just put all the water in and let it absorb. She recommended putting it in by the cup and then lettig it absorb and the again by the cup and letting it absorb. (You probably know this). And of course the stirring. Lots of lots of stirring.

Have you tried it with mushrooms? My favorite. Also do you put saffron in yours? She taught me the Milanese way so they put that in there and I have to admit it's more expensive than crack to buy but is yummy.

Now you have me craving it.

Does it make a difference for most kinds of soup?

If you like what you're doing, then it works for you, right? However, using stock adds another layer of flavor depth. When you use the soup veggies to flavor the broth, then you're spreading the veggies' flavor over a wider area. If you start with pre-made stock, then add more veggies, the flavor will be richer.

Sometimes I make soup as you've described--that's how my mom did it, and it works just fine for me. Other times, it's nice to thaw some frozen, pre-made stock, steam a few veggies, add the two together, et voila, soup.

One of my favorite quickie soups involves cooking a hand-ful of bulgar in a lightly oiled frying pan with veggies (carrots, broccoli, onions, garlic, etc.). When the veggies are done, add a beaten egg and scramble it. When the egg is done, add veggie broth. Warm broth and serve. The bulgar is a little toothy, but it gets a nice, nutty flavor that goes nicely with both the egg and the veggies.

It continually strikes me that simple food is the best food, to a degree that is profound. Brown rice and vegetables, what else do you need? And where can you buy such food in any public place? Here in India there is another level of this, ashram food, which can be incredibly simple, yet, prepared by conscious cooks, has a vibrational quality that we don't know how to quantify, but is palpable. Sometimes I will bring a container to the city when I return, and still the vibration persists. We are so ignorant about the basic stuff, how to eat, how to breathe, the basic stuff seems the eternal quest... enjoy, happy to see your success, travels, talks, books...

My wife says that vegetable stock doesn't make much of a difference, but that a homemade chicken stock adds body and flavor that you can't get any other way. (I concur -- soup made using homemade chicken stock is sublime.)

The stocks from the grocery store don't tend to add much because they don't provide the body that a homemade stock does.

She also says that you can find a great, easy recipe for chicken stock in the Doubleday Cookbook, which is a pretty awesome reference cookbook all the way around. The recipe takes about two hours, which is on the low end for stocks.

when i bake chicken, i save the drippings minus most of the fat for using as soup base. i combine that with pretty much the same vegetable mix you do for soups and also to cook rice in sometimes, instead of water. we save extra in the thick, freezer ziplocks because, as meg said, you can stack them in there easier.



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