Yesterday morning, I woke up early to face the crates, buckets, and baskets of food on the kitchen table and figure out how to turn them into soup. While we buy what we can from the farmers market, our "cafe soups" are dependent also on the copious produce they gift us with at the end of the markets. Good stuff, top quality, and always an interesting mix, some of it gets stored for later in the week, some gets processed (freezing or canning) when we have a whole lot.
Yesterday morning what we had the most of was roots - carrots, rutabaga, turnip, green onions; some tubers - sweet potatoes; and another bunch o' greens.
I imagined a slightly sweet soup with rosemary (which is growing in our garden). So I chopped up enough to fill our four pots and cooked it up. The trick is the order. One huge difference between homemade soups and canned soups is the freshness of the vegetables. While cooked enough to chew, they should still retain their individual flavor (the canning process tends to overcook everything). So add the vegetables to the soup pot in order of their required cooking time.
But first the flavoring: Sauté onions and garlic if you have them and sprinkle with seasoning (rosemary this time). Then add the hardest stuff - for us, diced rutabaga and sliced carrots - cover with water and boil for about five minutes. They need just a tiny headstart over the turnip and sweet potato which come next. I boiled this until it was almost tender (about 7 minutes). Then I added a shredded cabbage to each of our very large pots and boiled for another few (I could have used the collards or mustards if I added a little extra time, but I am saving these for later in the week). The water has now become a nice vegetable broth; taste it, and salt to your preference. Then I added canned tomatoes and pre-cooked kidney beans and rice, heated it up, and voila! The kidney beans added protein and some more hardiness. The rice was unnecessary, especially since we were serving the soup with bread, but I just fancied the tomato-rice-rosemary combo. Giving the soup one last, hard look, I realized it could use some dark green, so I raided our little spinach patch out front, chopped some leaves up, and added it to the pot. At this point, guests were about to arrive, so I didn't even turn the burner back on, just allowed the already-tender spinach to soften itself in the hot broth.
It was good, and relatively quick for twelve gallons of soup. It would take less than an hour to prepare a family-size pot if you have cooked beans and rice on hand. You could leave those out, especially if you're serving the soup as part of a larger meal. I can see this soup served with grilled cheese sandwiches - much tastier than the traditional Campbell's tomato.
I like the challenge of using what we've got and making something good out of it. It takes a little practice, but what a great skill our grandparents had! Making do and making it delicious is the root of what we think of now as "regional" cooking. You don't get more regional than Mid-February Embrace-Your-Roots Soup.