Experiments With(out) Broth

Tossing out produce makes me feel horribly wasteful, so wilted vegetables and scraps generally end up in a bin destined for vegetable stock. I can't remember the last time I purchased packaged broth, since there is nearly always some homemade stock lurking in the freezer, but on a cold night not too long ago, I came home from work anxious to make some belly-warming soup only to find my stash had been exhausted. For a brief moment I stared despairingly at the ice box, but since I am not one who likes to change strategy midstream (to put it mildly), I used water in the soup instead.

Lately some of my favorite food writers have been advocating the use of water in place of packaged stocks and broth anyway. Michael Ruhlman strongly favors the exclusive use of water or homemade stocks, and Mark Bittman has been making the same point in his Minimalist column. Until now, I had smugly thought that I would never need to resort to lowly water in my soup making, but, much to my surprise, I quite like the result. This vegetable soup had a brighter flavor than expected -- a hint of summer in a still restorative soup.

The recipe is pretty basic, since I wanted to be able to identify differences in a water versus stock-based soup, but that doesn't mean it's bland. This is one of those times when the end product is better than the sum of its parts.

Basic Vegetable Soup

extra-virgin olive oil
2 potatoes, diced
2 carrots, sliced into coins
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 dried chili, minced
1 bunch of spinach, cut into ribbons
1 lemon, juiced
hard grating cheese, like Parmesan or Pecorino

Season potatoes and carrots with salt and pepper and saute in olive oil over medium heat until they begin to color a little. Add garlic and chili and cook until they become fragrant. Add water until the vegetables are covered by about a 1/2 inch. Bring liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the vegetables are tender (15 - 20 minutes, depending upon the size of your vegetables). Stir in spinach and let cook until just wilted. Remove the soup from the heat and adjust the seasoning. Stir in the lemon juice, and ladle into bowls. Garnish the soup with a flurry of cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve hot.