The weather outside has seen frost for a few nights, and the local bank signs have told us temperatures have dropped below freezing a few times now. Sometimes, I think that my feet will never feel warm again. Like my first “What’s for Dinner” column ever with the bean and ham soup, this recipe for vegetable beef soup took the chill out of me and left me feeling like I was back in Florida.
Hawkins spent the weekend out of town, but returned Sunday night. I hurried over with groceries in hand to go to work on the evening meal. To get things started, heat the five-quart pot with a little oil in the bottom. I bought a little less than a pound-and-a-half of stew meat at the store, but thought the pieces to be too large. Each cube I cut in half to make for a bite-sized morsel. Place the meat into the oil, set to medium heat and brown all the surfaces. If you have a lot of fat in the bottom, use the lid to drain it out.
Once the meat is browned, take it out of the pan and set it aside. We need to work on the mirepoix now. Unlike other dishes, we’re not putting in so much that it becomes the base of the soup, just seasons everything up nicely. Put one large, diced red onion into the pot, with a peeled and sliced carrot, two teaspoons of minced garlic and a sliced rib of celery. I seasoned the mirepoix with some salt and pepper and cooked it until the onions and carrots were tender. Once accomplished, put the meat back into the pot, and stir everything up well.
With the meat browned, and the pot seasoned by the mirepoix, we can set out to making ourselves a soup. At first, I added two 14-ounce cans of beef broth, and one eight-ounce can of tomato sauce. Upon looking at the soup, I realized it would not be soupy enough with that amount of liquid. I poured in one more can of both broth and sauce, and was pleased with the consistency at that point. As soup bones seem to be a commodity scarcer than a barrel of crude oil these days, I did not feel like too much of a cheat for using canned broth. The tomato sauce adds color, flavor and thickness to the soup. For flavor, I was none too shy about pouring in a quarter cup of red wine. I would have preferred sherry, but the red wine worked well with the beef and tomatoes.
Let’s take inventory, beef, soup, but what have we forgotten? Oh yes, vegetables. The easiest and tastiest way to add veggies to soup is to get a pound of frozen mixed vegetables and throw them all into the pot. My vegetables included corn, more carrots and green beans. I thought the pot needed a little more in the way of vegetables and variety, so I used a half-cup of frozen peas. Sliced one large, ripe tomato and added it to the concoction as well.
Seasoning is pretty simple for this. Tomatoes are always good friends with oregano, so I started with just a teaspoon of that herb. Any more, and I worried the soup would begin to taste like spaghetti sauce. Two teaspoons of thyme and a tablespoon of parsley are worthwhile additions to the soup, too. Finally, this being a soup, we have to drop in a pair of bay leaves.
Cover the pot and allow it to simmer for an hour-and-a-half or even two. When done, add a single potato, unpeeled and diced into half-centimeter cubes to the pot. The potatoes should be added last, if they are overcooked, they will melt and thicken the soup too much. Cover the pot again and test the potatoes after about 20 minutes, when they are tender, remove the lid and reduce the heat to the lowest setting.
The last thing to add is a bit of pasta. I selected some whole-wheat rigatoni for the job. Rather than place raw pasta into your soup, boil a cup separately according to the package’s directions, drain and place as much or as little as you want into the pot. The problem with pasta is that it will soak up the soup’s liquid if cooked in the same pot. Cooking it separately leaves the soup with the proper consistency. Once the pasta is combined with the soup, stir it well and allow it to simmer for another few minutes.
We served the soup with some plain cornbread, and enjoyed two bowls each. Hawkins had a hard time picking a favorite of the soups I’ve been cooking of late, but he thought this recipe was really good. This being a Sunday night, we knew we had work the very next day. We watched last Friday’s “Friday Night Lights” on his DVR and spent the rest of the evening enjoying some of the older tunes in the Beatles catalog. Even if my feet stay cold all day, hot soup made sure a good time was had by all. Good eating.