Part of the magic and trouble of eating real food is that real foods rots. Greens wilt and veggies that were once firm soften. All things that come from the earth yearn to return to it and often move in that direction sooner than some of us might wish they did.
So, what you, the home cook, must have are a number of devices in your emergency culinary toolbox (let’s call them screwdrivers for fun) that move products from the inside of your refrigerator to the inside of your stomach. I think meals of this nature work best when they are less recipe and more general instruction, so that’s what you’ll find here. No running to the grocery to pick up that one item you don’t have to make this type of dishes. If it’s not in your fridge, cabinet, or on your counter, it doesn’t belong in a screwdriver meal.
In my personal “oh shit everything I bought at the farmers market is about to mold” toolbox you will find a how-to for a basic stir-fry, a vegetable-heavy pasta sauce, and a greens-and-tomato-laden fritatta. But in these first weeks of spring, I consider vegetable soup the best possible way to clean out any fridge. Here’s what to do:
- Round up all the produce and other items in your kitchen that are about to go off or that you need to move along to make room for your upcoming shopping trip. This time, for me, that search included some many-eyed potatoes, frozen bags of last summer’s green beans, partial jars of beef and chicken stock, and some extremely limp carrots.
- Evaluate your stash and add in some other ingredients to round it out. Do you have any onions, celery, carrots, or garlic? Those foods are an ideal starting place for just about any soup. What about a jar of tomatoes (whole/diced/crushed will all work beautifully)? A partial bag of frozen peas or corn leftover from a casserole you made a few months ago? What’s your dried herb situation? Pull out some parsley and oregano along with salt and pepper, if you have it.
- Splash a few glugs of olive oil into the bottom of a stock pot or dutch oven and allow it to warm. Dice an onion or two and throw them into the bottom of the pot. Gently stir and allow the onions to turn translucent. Add chopped carrots, celery, and garlic, if you have them. If you don’t have them, do not panic; move to the next step. (Whenever I cut up carrots, celery, or onions, I keep the peelings in a big jar or bag in the freezer for future use in making stock. Image of my peelings below.)
- Chop and add to the pot whatever other vegetables you have selected. Things that would work well here include root vegetables (sweet or white potatoes, turnips, parsnips), cubed squash of just about any variety, beans or peas, cabbage or other greens, corn, canned/frozen/fresh tomatoes, or peppers. Honestly I don’t think you can go wrong here with maybe a few exceptions — possibly artichokes, olives, and asparagus would not be good. But by all means, please go ahead and prove me wrong on that one.
- Once all your vegetables are in the pot, cover them with stock or broth or water. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer until all the vegetables are tender and flavors are combined. I left my pot on the stove simmering for a least an hour because it was a chilly and rainy Monday and it made me feel better, but it was certainly ready to eat well before then. If you are an insane person like me, you will end up with nine quart jars of soup and will be ready for visitors, natural disasters, and nuclear war.