It’s time to take a break from all the hearth-side philosophy, and talk about something practical: making great vegetable stock.
There aren’t many things in the kitchen that are as crucial as good stock. If you don’t have it, you’re not going to make a good soup, nor good polenta, nor good risotto. It enriches a pot of beans, it deepens your sauces, and it increases the nutritional value of anything you’re making.
You can buy stock, certainly. But it’s not fresh, and it usually contains much more salt than you want.
But making stock, to many people, is a hassle, a time-consuming inconvenience. All the vegetable prep, and in fact, all the vegetable buying. But there is a very easy and economical way to always have fresh, healthy, and flavorful stock on hand.
Here’s how I do it: I keep a plastic bin in my freezer. Anytime I trim a carrot, I toss the tip or the top into the bin. Same for when I cut an onion. Ditto for squash, celery, broccoli, pea pods, mushrooms, parsnips, cabbage, kale, potatoes, leeks, scallions. Now and then, I have a few random sprigs of parsley, or rosemary, or thyme. I might have those few small cloves at the center of soft-neck garlic, or a shallot that needs to be dealt with. Into the bin they go!
When I need stock, I put all or part of the bin’s contents into a soup pot, add water, and a bay leaf or two. Over high heat, I bring it to a boil. I then cover it and reduce it to a simmer, and let it go for about 45 minutes to an hour. I can do this the evening before I need it, or in the morning as I’m getting other things done. It really is no hassle at all.
And the aroma that fills the house a makes it all worthwhile! Holy cow, does it smell good!
When it’s done, I strain the stock and put the spent vegetable trimmings into my compost. So get this: I spend no extra money on the vegetables, I don’t have to do any prep because it was being done every time I made something, and my garden experiences more nourishment, too. What’s more, I make use of that gnarly broccoli stem, the core from a cauliflower, and the stem from a portabella mushroom. It’s a solid deal all around.
Here are some things I never put into my stock: salt (you do this when you’re making your actual dish; here, it’s not only redundant, but will affect how your final dish is developing); tomatoes; peppers of any kind; eggplant; cilantro; radish; beets. All of these vegetables will either dominate the broth, or add flavors that might not harmonize in the final dish I’m making. I want a complex and smooth flavor in my broth, one that can support a great variety of dishes.
Here’s an easy-to-read list of parts that I generally save in that bin:
- pea pod
- squash (any variety)
- sweet potato
Here’s an easy-to-read list of things that I DO NOT put in that bin:
- pepper of any kind
The resulting stock can be kept refrigerated for 5 days. Any excess can be frozen, which means you just made things easier for the next time you need stock.