In uncertain times, I turn to food preservation—and a pandemic soup recipe you might like

I found this post in my draft folder, dated September, 2017. Just the headline, “In uncertain times, I turn to food preservation,” with no text. I was probably setting up some post about a thing I’d canned.

Apparently I thought 2017 was “uncertain times.”

That’s cute.

It’s true, though, that I look to my kitchen as a coping mechanism. After nine weeks of sheltering in place—and with the stress of lost employment and the trauma of a global pandemic—I’ve spent more time there than ever. I feel really lucky that I like to cook; undoubtedly, preparing three meals a day is placing more stress on many families, not less.

One of the things that’s given me the most joy during this time is finding ways to produce less waste. I’ve dehydrated orange peels to supplement a tin of black tea; saved bones and vegetable scraps for gallons of chicken broth, turkey broth, ham broth and beef broth; frozen and canned chilis, soups and salsas and restarted a compost regimen which had fallen by the wayside.

Yesterday I made cream of broccoli and potato soup and thought I’d post it as a flexible base to make “cream of whatever you’ve got” soup. Please enjoy.

Cream of Whatever You’ve Got Soup:

Adapted from a Food Network recipe. Makes about four quarts.

Ingredients:

  • 2 TB butter
  • 1/2 to 1 C. dairy (milk, cream, 1/2 and 1/2 or dairy alternative that isn’t likely to curdle or somehow else get weird under heat)
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • Potatoes, peeled and chopped. How many is really up to you. Wanna make cream of potato soup? Aim for about 6-8 potatoes, depending on size. If you’re using other veggies, the potatoes help amp up the creaminess of the soup. I used about 5 very small potatoes that were not looking so hot for this batch.
  • Nutmeg, optional, to taste
  • 6-10 C. broth, stock or water. I saved a huge ham hock in my freezer and put that in the pot along with about 10 C. of water. You want to make sure the vegetables and any bones are covered, but also don’t want your soup to be runny. If you’re not adding bones and using water, definitely up the salt. Worried about too much liquid? Evaporation is a thing, so just extend your cooking time to reduce the soup. It will only amplify the flavors.
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste. Again, if you’re using broth or have a flavorful bone in the mix, you may not need much added salt. If using water, be generous, or add bouillon cubes or paste.
  • 3-ish C. of broccoli, or whatever you’ve got, roughly chopped. I like to buy a bunch of broccoli crowns, steam the florets as a dinner side and freeze the stalks to use for this application. Think of the “cream of” soups in the grocery store. Have you got celery? Mushrooms? Turnips? Butternut squash? Play off whatever vegetable you choose with complimentary herbs and spices, for a next level soup.

Instructions:

  1. In a large pot, melt butter and cook onion until tender over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the potatoes and toss to coat with butter.
  3. Warm your liquid and add to the pot, with your ham hock or bones, if you’re using those. Bring to a simmer.
  4. Stir in your vegetable of choice and return to a simmer.
  5. Cook on medium-low heat for at least 20-30 minutes, until potato and veggies are tender. If you’ve got the time, let it go longer—about an hour or two on the stove top. Alternatively, you could transfer your sautéed onion and potato to a slow cooker, add liquid, etc. and cook on low 8 hours or overnight.
  6. Remove ham hock or other bones or fat floating around.
  7. Working in batches, puree your soup in a blender or food processor and return to pot.
  8. If desired, boil off some more of the liquid.*
  9. If it’s still seeming really watery, add a spoonful of cornstarch or flour and stir continuously as you bring to a boil.
  10. Add cream. For a creamier soup, blend again with an immersion blender
  11. Season to taste and serve warm.

*Wanna can this soup so you aren’t eating soup for the next 14 days? Stop at this step and DO NOT add the dairy. Low-acid soups like this must be canned under pressure (10-lbs. of pressure, 60 minutes for pints, 75 for quarts). If you don’t have a pressure canner, you can freeze soup at this stage, too. Again, it’s better to add the dairy as you’re getting ready to eat this, to reduce the risk of separation.

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