Here are the basics…have fun with it…make enough for two or three nights…and if you can, use organic ingredients.
Cut a 3- to -4-inch red* onion in half, peel, trim away root and stem ends, slice 1/8th inch thick, maybe chop into smaller pieces if you like.
And/or: using 1 very large or 2 medium-size leeks, cut away leaves where the green darkens, then slice the white leeks top to bottom through the center. Rinse under running water to flush out any grit (leeks grow covered in earth). Slice crossways ¼-inch thick.
Scrub** 3-6 nice carrots (about 1-inch thick at the top), trim off tops and tails, slice on the diagonal or straight across 1/4- to ½-inch thick.
Slice a large perky branch of celery, including leaves, to match carrot pieces.
Peel and finely chop 1 to 4 large cloves of garlic.
Set your soup pot—broad base, heavy material (enameled cast iron is ideal), 3 to 5 quarts—over medium heat. After about 30 seconds, slosh in your favorite sautéeing oil—I like extra virgin olive–to veil the bottom.
When the oil glistens, add the seasoning vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently (a wooden spoon works well), till the onions have softened.
Now add your principal firm-fleshed raw vegetables: could be 1-inch dice of (unpeeled) potatoes, summer squash, sweet peppers (all colors), fennel, eggplant, celery root, sweet potatoes…stir to mix in.
For broth, usually for thrift as well as flavor, I make broth from concentrated vegetable, mushroom, chicken, or beef stock base (“Better than Bouillon”). And Knorr bouillon cubes are classic—once I got lucky and found their mushroom bouillon, ah me. Any stock works beautifully for soup…sometimes I blend them.
Cover the vegetables with broth by 1 to 2 inches. Simmer (one or two bubbles at a time) until they’re almost tender.
Now if you wish, add inch-size florets of cauliflower, broccoli, diced green beans or sugar-snap peas, ¼-inch wide shreds of cabbage. Grate in a few unpeeled beets?
When these veggies are almost tender, stir in greens: shreds of kale (stems included), fresh spinach (ditto), swiss chard…I find collards and beet and turnip greens too strong, but you mightn’t.
Cooked dried beans with their cooking broth, fresh or frozen peas, corn, and sautéed sliced mushrooms (I don’t fancy simmered mushrooms, I like them gilded first) go in now.
Amounts of vegetables? Not to worry. Add what you have. What you like. Then make a note for next time.
When all is tender, I add the magic touch: 1 to 2 cans of organic fire-roasted diced tomatoes (Muir Glen, in 14.5 to 28 ounces).
Stir and simmer till everything is blended, tender.
Now the seasoning. I grind over an abundance of black or white pepper, then sprinkle in herbs. Dried herbs don’t get lost in a complex composition: a few pinches of oregano, sweet basil, thyme, or sage…or the blend called Italian Herbs. Often I add red pepper flakes—but not enough to reveal themselves.
And usually the lift of a drizzle of lemon juice and a thin thread of balsamic red wine vinegar. Go slowly, stirring thoroughly, tasting after each addition.
Sometimes the soup needs a touch of sweetness—and more tomatoes—so (don’t tell anyone) I shake in a bit of catsup. Does wonders. So would tomato paste, but catsup is subtler.
Then a gilding of extra virgin olive oil…
I set the loosely-covered pot in a cool place to think about things until supper time—or refrigerate it till the next day. Soup is even more flavorful the next day. By the way, if your soup is refrigerated, tightly covered, for more than two days, before serving, bring it to a BOIL and simmer it hard for 3 to 4 minutes to vanquish any bad guys wanting to hang out.
For the second or third night, often I boil a few ounces of soup pasta–shells, seeds, curlicues–and stir them into the pot…that makes it a kin of minestrone. Yum.
I serve vegetable soup with pesto (wonderfully available ready-made these days), grated pecorino or parmesan cheese, or grated mozzarella.
And buttered naan warmed in the oven.
I’d love to hear about your soup!
*Red are more nutritious than white or yellow and prettier when cooked.
**Do not peel—the skin is super-nutritious.