Autumn is arguably the best time of the year for eating. Late summer – with its loads of zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes – is definitely up there. But for me the slow-cooked roasts, the winter squash and richly-flavored soups of fall are without equal. I grill (a little) less and spend a little more time peeking in the oven…you probably do too. It is a bittersweet time of year as well. There are only two weeks left in the Root Cellar’s farm co-op program we participated in this year. Done for the year are my Thursday evening trips downtown to load up a groaning cardboard box of vegetables, meat, eggs and milk. It’s been a generous weekly haul for $65 and we’ve rarely had to supplement with trips to the grocery store.
Still, there’s a little more time for random-vegetable soup. There’s no one way to make this and no good way to screw it up. Win, win.
Random Vegetable Soup (fall edition)
1/2 lb. sausage (or more, if you like)
One medium butternut squash, quartered
2 carrots, chopped
2 leeks (or one onion), rinsed and sliced thin, green parts reserved
2 handfuls kale, chopped
1 can beans (Great Northerns, pintos, whatever)
Assorted potatoes, turnips or other wintery goodies you have on hand, all chopped
Preheat oven to 375. In large pot heat six cups of water and add your vegetable trimmings (carrot ends, turnip tops, green leek-parts, whatever). Have an old sprig of rosemary? Throw it in. Thyme? What the hell. Bring to simmer, reduce heat and cover.
Seed the butternut squash, place on a cookie sheet and cook until just barely tender (not fully-cooked). 30 minutes or so. Set aside to cool.
In a second pot brown your sausage, adding vegetable oil (if you must or lard if you like food that tastes just that much better) if the sausage is a little lean. When cooked, remove sausage from pot and cook leeks and carrots over medium heat until golden brown. Throw in some chopped garlic and potatoes/turnips/whatever. Cook for another five minutes. Deglazing the pan with some sherry or white wine would not be a bad thing right now. Strain your veggie broth into the pot and return the sausage.
Cube the squash and add to the pot, along with however much kale suits your fancy. Add the beans. You should be salting and peppering throughout, tasting as you go. Simmer for 15 minutes and enjoy. Or let cool and refrigerate for later, when it will taste better. Bask in praise and adoration, for you have made soup for a dozen people and spent about ten bucks doing it.
Note: As always, greens you get locally will be better than store-bought. The farmer’s market is just about tapped out, so I drove out to Chert Hollow Farm north of town to get my kale (thanks, Eric). Still, The Root Cellar will carry greenhoused greens most of the time.