There are countless recipes for soups; there are chapters in big fat books on the subject and there are entire books of soup recipes. Nearly all of them are meaningless to me for two reasons: one, I basically feel soup is silly, and almost never called for; and two, when I make soup — which I do despite my feelings about it — I am making it in order to use up dabs of this and chunks of that, things that happen to be filling my fridge and freezer.
The other night I made a pot of soup that was a perfect example of this.
We had: about half a cup of leftover turkey meat shreds; one half of a spatchcocked chicken, which my husband made two days before Thanksgiving for reasons I’ll never understand; and a pressing need to eat these things up. We also had a jar of turkey stock and about two cups of leftover corn stock. And I had to make something for dinner.
So I sauteed an onion and some garlic in turkey fat (in a measuring cup, leftover from Thanksgiving) and then I added the two stocks and the chicken and turkey, which I’d cut up into tiny pieces. I also added the contents of a little jar I’ve had on my spice rack for about five months, which is rice ground into a powder with chills — this was the result of my making homemade chili powder and then needing to clean the coffee grinder I’d sullied. The resulting rice/chili powder smelled really good, and I recognized it immediately as something that’d be really good to thicken a soup. I had, in fact, labeled it: rice powder with chili, to use to thicken soup.
This simmered for about half an hour. Then I added some frozen corn kernels. I served this soup with some bread I’d made earlier in the afternoon, which was still warm, and we ate half of the loaf — it was a big loaf of pain de mie, too, so we’re talking about a lot of bread, here — which we slathered with (leftover) guacamole and (leftover) pimiento cheese. Everyone ate a lot, and everyone was happy.
But there was one cup of soup leftover.
Loath to throw it away, and definitely not being someone who would eat a sad cup of soup and call it lunch, I realized I had to do something with it for dinner last night.
So I got out my stock pot and filled it with water. I blanched a bunch of broccoli rabe. In another pot, I fried one slice of duck bacon, and when it was cooked, I took it out and set it on a cutting board to cool. Then I dumped the soup into the pot: it immediately blended with the duck fat. I added another clove of minced garlic. When the rabe was blanched, I chopped it up; I minced the duck bacon; and added these to the soup pot to let the whole mess simmer a while. Then, in the water I’d blanched the rabe in, I boiled gemelli and used the soup and rabe as a pasta sauce. Sprinkled with Parmesan, this was a meal everyone gobbled down happily on a cold December night.
I don’t know how or why people go out of their way to make special soups. I know that making soup by the seat of your pants makes perfect sense to me. You have to be reasonable about it: you don’t want to get too creative about it, frankly, because then you risk winding up with some very deeply weird glop in your bowl. For example, it would never have seemed like a good idea to add the guacamole to the turkey/chicken soup pot. I wouldn’t have added star anise to the pot, either, in an attempt to jazz it up a little. People do things like this, thinking, “oh, why not?” but you have to keep your wits about you. Work within the framework of basic families of flavors, and it seems to me, you can turn leftover anything into a very good soup indeed, for an evening when you don’t know what the hell to make for dinner.
Another time we’ll talk, about using leftover potatoes for soup. Drives my husband crazy but he’s just wrong, it’s a good idea.