Alanna's Unrecipe Winter Soup
This is less of a recipe and more of a structurally sound concept for a nourishing meal. It’s fairly quick to throw together, although it could be embellished to encompass an entire afternoon. And if you make your own chicken stock, which I highly recommend, you may want to plan ahead by a couple days. If you make it yourself, don't add salt. If using store bought stock, make sure it's low sodium. You’ll get salt from other ingredients. Enough preamble. The soup!
Start with some bacon. This is always a great place to start. How much? This depends on how many people you’re intending to feed or how many meals you want to get out of this. Cut the bacon into sections that would appeal to you if you found them on a spoon (this is a matter of taste). Sauté the bacon over medium heat in a large Dutch oven that you will eventually serve your soup out of. Do not scorch it. When the bacon is cooked remove it with a spoon to another location (a bowl on the counter works, and a bowl large enough to hold the sausage that’s coming next is wise because fewer dishes make for happier times). You may want to pour off some of the bacon fat. You may not.
Now for the sausage. Remove some Mild Italian sausages from their casings and place them in the Dutch oven over medium heat. My favorite way to do this is with a pair of kitchen shears. You start at one end and slice lengthwise down the whole thing like you’re cutting a big piece of wrapping paper and turn the sausage inside out. Give the casings to your dog. Break the sausage into pieces with your big wooden spoon as it cooks. Once it’s browned remove it from the pan and place it in the bowl with the cooling bacon that’s on your counter next to you.
Aromatics! Choose a few. If you’ve chosen onions or leeks start there. Chop them into sections that would appeal to you if you saw them floating in a soup (this is again a matter of taste) and sweat them in the fat until they are softened. Garlic? Now’s as good a time as any. Add it but don’t brown it, please. Just take the edge off.
Onto the root vegetables that you’ve peeled and chopped into appealing shapes. Carrots. Parsnips. Rutabagas? Not sure about rutabagas. Sauté these with the onions until you’re satisfied. You may want to call it early or you may want to bring these vegetables to a new place - a darker, sweeter, smokier one. Follow your instincts or your distraction. However you get there this dinner will be lovely.
Now for some starch. White potatoes. Sweet potatoes. White sweet potatoes? Delightful. Butternut squash? Sure. Peel and chop whatever you have on hand and toss it into your vegetable medley. Now pour chicken broth over the entire thing. Cover the pot and bring it to a simmer while you wash your greens. Rainbow Chard (so often sandy - pay close attention!) or kale will both be serviceable. Remove the stems and chop the leafy greens into pieces, maybe not too small.
When the root vegetables and starchy vegetables have softened in the broth (perhaps 20 minutes is all?) you can add back your cooked sausage and bacon. Stir the pot a few times while the meat heats through and taste it for salt. Did you just remember the leftover noodles in your fridge? Add them if you’re inspired, but it’s also okay to pitch them. Now call everyone to the table.
Put the chopped greens in the bottom of your bowl and then ladle the soup over top. The greens will wilt almost immediately. Now for the heavy cream. Just pour it over the whole thing and stir. Parsley? Pull the leaves off by the fistful and turn them in too. Do you like pepper? Now’s the time. White pepper? You’re feeling frisky, I can tell. Do you have a lemon? Zest the peel over everything.
And there you have the best soup we can imagine this winter. Take this and do with it as you will but most of all, enjoy it and share. And make enough for tomorrow. It’s still going to be winter tomorrow.
*Note: What’s nice about adding the greens to individual bowls rather than the whole pot is that it protects tomorrow’s portion from having sad looking greens floating in it. This means you’ll get to have your reverie all over again as the hot broth takes a dull bit of kale and brings a richer color to it. It’s also nice because some children don’t want to see green anywhere on the table in winter, and certainly not in their bowl. Keeping greens as a matter of individual discretion is a courtesy to them and those you share the table with. And if your child doesn’t like anything, they can be excused now.