Let me preface what I’m about to write with the fact that I’m an enormous Cook’s Illustrated fan. I love their magazine and cookbooks and all their recipes are almost always surefire.
That said, when “Farmhouse Veggie Soup” won the poll last week, I was expecting to read a recipe involving slow-simmering stocks and farm-raised veggies.
After all, I have a hard time calling a recipe “Farmhouse” unless it’s actually cooked in a farmhouse. Or at a minimum it should use all fresh ingredients.
When I think of a farmhouse veggie soup, I imagine an old grandmother slowly stirring a pot of stock that’s been simmering for hours. She carefully stirs in hand-picked veggies from outside her back door while her lazy dogs lounge around the kitchen.
What doesn’t come to mind is a test cook in a cooking laboratory mixing soy sauce and powdered porcini mushrooms to get the same deep flavors that the grandmother gets.
It’s not to say that the later version isn’t completely delicious (it is), but calling it “Farmhouse” makes me feel icky.
So I’m renaming it Cheater’s Veggie Soup. Because that’s really what it is.
1) In a spice grinder, grind a handful of dried mushrooms for 25-30 seconds until they are powdered. Measure out a Tablespoon of the powder.
2) Use kitchen twine to tie together parsley and thyme sprigs with bay leaf.
3) Melt butter in a large, sturdy pot (dutch oven works well) over medium heat. Add leeks, carrots, celery, white wine and soy sauce, plus a big pinch of salt. Cook until liquid is evaporated and veggies are soft, about 10 minutes.
4) Add water, broth, barley, mushroom powder, herb bundle, and garlic. Increase heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes, partially covered.
5) Add potatoes, turnips, and cabbage. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes.
6) Remove soup from heat and stir in peas and chopped parsley. Remove herb bundle. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve with crusty bread and lemon-thyme butter.
Adapted from a Cook's Illustrated Recipe
Some Whacky Ingredients
This recipe is kind of wild, but with good reason. Most cooks know that the way to make the best homemade soup is to start with a really good homemade stock. Without this, you’re already playing catch-up.
But this recipe ingeniously compensates for the lack of a homemade stock with a few ingredients that have a delicious, savory flavor: dried mushrooms and soy sauce. Just a small amount of both of these gives the soup a really deep flavor so you can actually use store-bought stock and still end up with a fantastic soup.
The first ingredient, porcini mushroom powder, is a bit weird. Luckily, it’s actually really easy to make. Just stick a few dried mushrooms in your spice grinder and pulse them for about 30 seconds. BAM. Mushroom powder.
Soy sauce and white wine also give the soup some great flavors.
Normally, when you make a good stock, you let some herbs simmer in the stock, but for this soup, we’ll just throw the herb bundle straight into the soup when we add the store-bought stock.
Starting the Soup
Most of the actual vegetables in this soup are pretty straightforward. One thing I was really happy to see was the substitution of leeks for onions. Onions can quickly overpower a soup so the leeks are a great change. They have that same flavor profile, but aren’t quite as strong.
The key part to remember about chopping leeks is to make sure you cut them in half horizontally and run them under water to clean the dirt out between the layers of leeks. Then you can just dice them up.
Also dice up some celery and carrots and you’re ready to get started on the soup.
Using a heavy pot, like a dutch oven, melt some butter over medium-high heat and then toss in your leeks, carrots, and celery. Also add in the white wine, soy sauce, and a big pinch of salt.
Cook this until the liquids all evaporate and the veggies are starting to soften.
Then go ahead and stir in the water, mushroom powder, herb bundle, stock, garlic, and barley.
The barley is especially important. As it plumps up, it really thickens the soup nicely.
Bring this to a simmer and let it simmer for about 20-25 minutes so the barley can start to cook.
The Starchy Stuff
While that’s simmering away, you can prepare the starchy stuff in the soup: potatoes, turnips, and cabbage. Ok. Cabbage isn’t exactly a starch, but you add it with the starchy stuff so it gets lumped in for purposes of this soup.
Once your soup has simmered for 20 minutes or so, then you can stir in those veggies.
Continue to simmer the soup until the veggies are all tender and the barley is cooked. This will probably be another 20 minutes or so.
Finishing the Soup
To finish off this soup, once all the veggies are soft, kill the heat and stir in some frozen peas and fresh parsley. Now would also be a good time to taste the soup for seasoning. It might need another pinch of salt and pepper.
Serve this up immediately with some really crusty bread.
It’s a perfect soup for the fall and you can actually make it on a week day thanks to some of the shortcuts in the recipe.
I’m not sure that I would exactly call it “Farmhouse”, but I would call it a keeper!