You know how certain cookbooks and cooking shows are all "you can use store bought stock if you want, but homemade is better," and you're all "RIGHT, like I just have homemade stock squirreled away in my freezer." I'm going to go on the record as saying, YES it's better but it's kind of a pain in the ass to make. Not that it's complicated, rather it's just time consuming even if it is hands off for the most part. For a nice chicken stock you have to either start with a whole chicken or save up roasted chicken carcasses in your freezer. I've done it both ways. Then you add all sorts of vegetables and a bouquet garni (which I never wrap in cheese cloth, cause, come ON) and then simmer away for hours and hours. Then you have to strain the whole thing and deal with all the chicken fat slicking the top of the broth. You could do the fun little cheese cloth trick I've written about before, or just use a spoon, but you never really get all the fat and you wind up losing too much stock. When I've made stock in the past, because it was a bit of an ordeal, I tend to store it away like some sort of precious, expensive bottle of wine that I don't want to use because it's too special and I want to save it for the perfect occasion. As such, I never end up using it.
A couple weekends ago, on a gray and rainy Sunday afternoon Annie and our friend Jodie and I, along with our significant others, got together for a little soup and panini party. There was to be two soups and three panini, two of which would be designed to go with each soup and then the third would be sweet, for dessert. Since Jodie and her husband, Mike, are vegetarians so too did soups need to be. I decided to do a vegetarian take on a classic French onion soup, only instead of a thick chunk of bread heaped with goey cheese, crusted around the edge, I thought it would be interesting to do a Gruyere panini, to dip into the soup. That way, you could control how much of the bread was soaked with broth and how much was buttery crisp.
As I researched recipes, it seemed that the key to a great French onion soup started with "a really rich beef broth." How is it, I wondered, that there seem to be so few interesting vegetarian onion soup recipes. Finally I came across a recipe that sounded delicious without the use of animals. What I really liked about it was that the stock was made with a melange of roasted vegetables. The store bought vegetable stocks I've used have always felt watery and under seasoned. Very disappointing. But roasting the vegetables, why that sounded brilliant. I did a little more research on roasted vegetable stocks and ended up combining the recipe on Gourmet A Go Go with a recipe in the Gourmet cookbook. People, this stock is really a great thing to know about. Simple but not simplistic. A kitchen basic with endless uses.
If you are wondering where the onion soup recipe is, don't worry. I didn't get a chance to take any pictures of the finished product, but I am planning on making it again soon. And when I do, I'll post.
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
2 or 3 stalks of celery, coarsely chopped, including leafy ends
2 small zucchini, coarsely chopped
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced in half keeping the root end in tact and cleaned under running cold water
1 1/2 yellow onions, quartered (don't bother to peel the skin off)
2 red bell peppers, quartered and seeded (I forgot to get them, so I used half a jar of roasted red peppers I happened to have)
1 head of garlic
2 or 3 shallots, halved (don't bother to peel the skin off)
2 cup mushroom stems (caps reserved for another use) I used a mix of crimini and baby bella
leaves from 4 sprigs fresh marjoram
leaves from 4 springs fresh thyme
extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup or so dry white wine
12 cups water
1/2 cup crushed, canned tomatoes
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
First get the stock going. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Place the chopped carrot, celery, zucchini, leeks, yellow onions, red bell peppers, garlic, shallots, and mushroom stems on a rimmed baking sheet. Scatter over the marjoram and thyme and then generously drizzle with olive oil. Using your hands, toss to get everything coated.
Slide the baking sheet into the oven and roast for 45 minutes, turning the vegetables with a spatula every 15 minutes. When the vegetables are finished roasting, transfer them to a deep pot.
Add in the 12 cups of water, the tomatoes, and bay leaf. Cover and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, place the baking sheet over two burners and heat over medium-high heat. Pour in the white wine and using a whisk, deglaze the pan.
Pour the wine in with the vegetables and water. Once the pot comes to a boil, remove the lid, reduce the heat, and simmer for 45 minutes.
Strain the stock using a colander set over a large bowl, pressing down on the vegetables to squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
If you like, you can strain again to make the stock very clear and remove the little bits and thyme, marjoram and any vegetable pulp, but it's not necessary.
You can also fish out the garlic head and squeeze out the soft, sweet garlic inside and stir it into the broth for extra flavor.
I wouldn't add salt at the end, even though it will probably taste like it needs some. Keep in mind the stock is not the finished product and whatever you do with it, you'll be adding more salt and you could wind up with an over salted dish.
Doesn't that look rich? You will love it. It has an incredible depth of flavor. You might be wondering "how is this less time consuming and involved than a regular chicken stock?" Somehow, it just seems easier than chicken.
Use it anywhere any recipe calls for any sort of stock, beef, chicken or vegetable. Use it right away or store it in 2 cup bags in the freezer. I find storing stock in smallish bags like that make it very easy to thaw whenever you need it. Just fill up a sink or bowl with hot water and plunge the bag in and in but a few minutes, your stock is ready.
Makes 8 cups