Some of the best soups are happy accidents. This is especially true when you get most of your produce and meats from farmers markets: Ingredients available one week may be gone the next, and the chances of that perfect convergence of vegetables and fruits ever happening again are slim. That's the case with this soup, which is a rich, warm, filling, and nutritious concoction that is just what you want on a chilly fall evening (in fact, I'll be going back for seconds soon), but it may be a long time before I can replicate it precisely because I probably won't have all these ingredients again at the same time.
But that's OK. Making this soup was an act of discovery, an exploration of flavors and textures. It was also an act of building something, adding component to component until it all came together with a toss of chopped kale at the end. Kind of fun to make, really. Furthermore, I experienced that moment when I had added just enough salt and pepper, the vegetables had mellowed and released their sweetness and savor to the stock, and the test spoonful exploded into my mouth, forcing me to do a happy dance and to shamelessly proclaim how good I am. It was a great soup.
I make a lot of these soups, the ones where I add this and that until it's done, but they don't always succeed. In fact, I've made some real disasters (beets and pumpkin do not, I repeat, do NOT go together). But most of them are pretty good, some are outstanding. There are a few lessons I've learned from building soups like this:
- Always use a good stock, preferably homemade.
- Give the onions that you will start almost every soup with plenty of time to mellow, at least 10 minutes. Don't rush soup.
- The stock should slightly cover the vegetables, not drown them. If you have too much stock, your soup will be watery. If don't have enough stock, the soup could be mushy, more like a vegetable stew or porridge.
- Aim for balance of flavors: sweet vegetables combined with bitter ones. (Like sweet potato with parsnips.)
- If you include a lot of root vegetables, like sweet potatoes, potatoes, parsnips, and so forth, try dicing an apple and adding it to the soup. You'll be surprised. In a good way.
- If you have some greens on hand, try chopping them up and adding them in the last few minutes of cook time.
- Add salt and pepper at the end of the cook time to avoid oversalting. (The stock will cook down a little, which will concentrate the salt if you add it too early.)
- Above all: Have fun, be inspired, see what you find at the farmers market, and taste, taste, taste.
- 6 slices bacon, chopped finely
- 1 onion, chopped finely
- 2 cups fresh (shelled) Dragon Tongue beans
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 2 small potatoes (yellow or white), peeled and diced
- 1 medium-large sweet potato, peeled and diced
- 1 apple, cored, peeled, and diced
- 1 cup butternut squash puree
- 2-3 cups chopped kale
- salt (to taste)
- white pepper (to taste)
- 1 tsp thyme
- Cook the bacon in a large soup pot over medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pot and let it drain on paper towels.
- Lower the heat to medium-low and add the onions. Let them cook slowly until they are soft and shiny. Give the onions a good 10 minutes to mellow.
- Add the beans, the stock, and the thyme to the pot. Bring the stock to a boil, and then lower the temperature to a simmer. Let the beans and stock simmer for 20 minutes (if you are using cooked beans, skip to the next step).
- Add the potatoes and the apples to the stock. Let them cook for 10 minutes.
- Add the sweet potatoes to the stock (sweet potatoes cook faster than regular potatoes). Let them cook for another 10-15 minutes (check that they are soft).
- Add the chopped kale and the bacon. Taste the soup, add salt and pepper to taste.