In the first week of February, it might seem premature to start planning shopping menus for the 2016 Farmer’s Market season. But, really, it’s not. Like seed shopping and garden planning, preparing for the market is best done well before you step up to that first vendor table. One of my favorite meals—good at any time of year—is my Season’s Best Vegetable Soup, which takes full advantage of fresh, in-season produce, as well as pantry staples and the food you are able to store, freeze or can during the plentiful growing seasons.
This soup is highly flexible. You can build from the basic ingredient choices to create a signature soup that is all your own. Use any combination of these suggestions below, but unless you have a stock pot WAY bigger than mine, you will not be able to use all the choices. This takes the day to prepare, (be brave) but it is a huge reward in terms of flavor and wellness (not to mention leftovers). This is another of my creations that my friend Deb refers to as Kitchen Yoga. Om.
The ingredients in the recipe below are listed by “season” and are not meant to be all-inclusive. Think of them as a list of inspiration for your own culinary masterpiece. Ready? Set. Cook!
- Asparagus, Green Onions , Peas, Spinach, Cabbage, Collard Greens, Mushrooms, Leeks, Zucchini and Summer Squash, Green Beans, Broccoli, Carrots , Garlic Scapes, Kale, Chard, Horseradish, Okra, New Potatoes, Tomatoes (rare), Turnips, Parsnips, Celery Root, Fennel
- Asparagus, Green and Wax Beans, Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots , Eggplant, Garlic, Herbs, Horseradish, Kale, Chard, Collard Greens, Leeks, Mushrooms, Okra , Onions, Peas, Potatoes, Spinach, Zucchini and Summer Squash, Tomatoes, Turnips, Bell Peppers, Hot Peppers, Corn, Cauliflower, Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkins, Shallots, Butternuts, Acorn Squash, Celery, Spaghetti Squash
- Bell Peppers, Hot Peppers, Cabbage, Carrots , Cauliflower, Corn , Eggplant, Garlic, Herbs, Horseradish, Kale, Chard, Okra , Collard Greens, Mushrooms, Onions , Peas, Potatoes, Pumpkins, Spinach, Zucchini and Summer Squash, Sweet Potatoes , Tomatoes, Turnips, Celery, Fennel, Acorn Squash, Butternuts, Spaghetti Squash
- Anything you have stored away, frozen or canned is, of course, available. In addition you may find locally grown mushrooms and sturdy greens, if someone has a hoop garden or cold frame or greenhouse. But generally speaking, December through March is pretty lean in terms of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Sauté your choice of the following vegetables in a large stock pot with four or five tablespoons of olive oil: One large yellow or red onion, several large leeks, one large bunch green onions with tops or several shallots; Three to four minced cloves of garlic or three to four chopped garlic scapes; Two cups chopped carrots and two cups chopped celery with nice leaves, maybe a fennel bulb, chopped; Two chopped bell peppers (and perhaps a fresh Jalapeño pepper, if you want heat or a teaspoon of homemade Harissa); Sea salt to taste
- Once this mixture has cooked down a little and is soft and aromatic, add your choices from the following: One and one-half cups diced potatoes: red, russet, fingerling or sweet potatoes; One and one-half cups diced squash: butternut, acorn or softer squash—zucchini or summer; One cup chopped cauliflower and/or one cup chopped broccoli; One cup peeled and chopped turnips and/or a half cup peeled and chopped beets (We love golden beets in this recipe. Perhaps try a cup or so of Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and chopped.); Up to two cups shredded cabbage; One cup fresh shell peas, green beans and/or fresh corn kernels; One cup chopped, sliced or whole mushrooms; Sea salt to taste
- When the second set of vegetables is semi-soft, add your liquids and spices: Four cups tomato or tomato-vegetable juice, or four cups of your own homemade stock; One cup whole tomatoes, chopped, or cherry tomatoes (Frozen work great here, if it is winter.); The juice of one lemon; Black pepper, one or two fresh bay leaves, one teaspoon turmeric, one teaspoon cumin if you are going southwest, or whatever spices strike your fancy.
- Adding a very special ingredient: the rind of high-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano that otherwise would be tossed away—it will melt and add velvety richness to your broth.
- Simmer for about two hours on very low heat. Stir occasionally with a big wooden spoon.
- Add protein with beans and grains: One cup cooked adzuki, black, lentil, kidney or garbanzo beans; One cup pearled barley, quinoa or cooked brown rice (barley and quinoa usually do not need to be pre-cooked because they’ll cook a little faster than rice. You may need to add more liquid as these absorb stock while they become tender.); One cup cooked whole wheat or gluten-free pasta (If you want pasta in your soup, I suggest adding it in Step 5, not 4. Cook your pasta until it is UNDER-done so that it doesn’t become too mushy as it finishes cooking in your soup. Under-cooking and finishing in the soup pot means the pasta will absorb more flavor, too.)
- Cook for another half hour or so to marry in the newest ingredients.
- Add fresh greens such as kale, chard, collards, spinach, beet or turnip greens, along with any fresh herbs growing in your garden that want to join the pot. Simmer for about 10 minutes more. Remove your bay leaves and the Parmigiano rind.
- Turn off the heat and puree about a quarter of the soup in blender or with your emulsion wand in order to thicken it and develop the flavors even more. (Pureeing is optional, but we really enjoy it this way. In fact, for summer eating, we have pureed the entire pot and eaten it cold.)
Keep in mind that the produce schedule listed in the ingredients pertains to the Midwest in my neck of the woods—Edwardsville, IL, near St. Louis on the east side of the Mississippi River. It is not all-inclusive; for one thing, it only contains produce you might use in this soup recipe, not all the produce available during the current season. And what is available depends on the time of the month, weather, when seeds were sown, your farmers’ preference and many other factors. Remember that the number one rule of shopping at the farmer’s market is to go with the flow, and this soup allows for just that.
To find out what’s growing in your area, you can check out The Sustainable Table (includes recipes and detailed information on vegetables and fruits) and your state Department of Agriculture (usually has a nice visual chart you can print). Once the market season begins, I check the Facebook page for The Land of Goshen Community Market at least once per week and begin texting my local growers about what’s going to be in their booths. It really pays to get to know the people who grow your food and run your markets. Not only will you be better prepared, make the best use of fresh food and avoid waste, you’ll make a whole bunch of new, very cool friends.
One last note: my husband the meat-eater likes to warm up his bowl of leftover soup in a separate pot from mine so that he can add cooked chicken and turkey meat or cooked ground beef. He says it’s yummy. We want everyone to have a place at the table, right?
Got your market plan in place? Spring is just around the corner!