There are about a hundred and one reasons why I count myself lucky to live in Portland Oregon, and high on that list is our magnificent farmers market. I believe in eating as seasonally and as locally as possible, and so I especially love the way that the market evolves each week. The nuance of each season determines the weekly crops, reflected in the offerings of each farmer, baker, and artisan vendor. But mostly, I just love the vegetables.
Perhaps, like me, you live in a city with a thriving small farm scene. And perhaps, like me, you find yourself getting a bit . . . *overly excited* . . . at the sight of such incredible vegetal bounty. Sometimes I become hypnotized there, starry-eyed-enchanted at the cornucopia of color on display.
Perhaps, like me, you tend to get *too* ambitious amidst all that glorious flora. My mind sets to racing through daydreams of dishes, rearranging menus to feature each rare ‘treasure-etable’ (say it fast). And so I buy, and admire, and I buy, and conspire, and I buy, and desire . . . so I buy. I’m just no match for all those pretty colors.
And so perhaps, like me, you often find yourself standing over the saddest sight. Come the weeks end, you’ve got a crisper full of precious produce on it’s very last leg, and no way to eat it in time. Such vegetable squander would truly be a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. But not to fear! That sort of wastefulness will never happen on our watch. We’re going to put those wilting beauties to good use – seasoning our roux, cradling our soup, and acting as a foundation for countless culinary creations. We are going to make stock!
Making your own stock is just about one of the easiest things you can do, and the rewards are simply divine. You have no idea what you’re missing if you’ve only ever poured base from a box or worse yet, a little package of concentrate. Homemade stock is as unique as its maker, rich and refined and adding complexity to any dish. And of course the best part of all – it’s totally easy to do, and it freezes great. Here’s what you’ll need, and you’ll notice I haven’t specified amounts, because this is sort of a ‘use-as-much-and-whatever-you’ve-got’ recipe:
- Oil, about 2 tablespoons
- Onions + Carrots + Celery – at least 2 of the 3. This fearsome threesome comprises the major aromatics, which are the staples of a traditional base. Collectively called mirepoix in French cuisine, this trio is the foundation of endless Western recipes. It is best to include all three, and in fact a good solid stock can be made from these three vegetables alone. You will, however, require a minimum of two of them.
- Other vegetables – this is the ‘Empty-Your-Crisper’ game! You can toss in virtually anything here, including but not limited to potatoes, parsnips, turnips, other tubers, leeks, chives, scallions, peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, mushrooms, broccoli (I usually save the stalks in a bag in the freezer for just this purpose), ginger, cabbage, and anything else you may find hiding in your veggie drawer.
- Garlic cloves – to taste.
- Spices – again, to taste. I usually fill a mesh infuser with some peppercorns and clove pods. You could also add star anise, fennel seeds, whole nutmeg or anything else you fancy. Again, this will probably change depending on what’s around.
- A bay leaf
Put on your favorite podcast to keep you company while you chop your mirepoix into nice, hefty chunks (about 1 inch pieces will do) and sliver your garlic. Set a cauldron or large stockpot over medium-high heat, and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil or Earthbalance ™. When the oil is heated, add the mirepoix and garlic to sauté, stirring occasionally. In the meantime, rough chop the rest of your veggies and prepare your spices. You can use a tea ball or infuser to sequester your spices, or you can tie them up in a satchel made of scrap fabric. You may also let them swim freely in the pot, but then you’ll have to fish them out later.
When the veggies and spices are ready (and the sautéing onions are getting glassy), add them and the bay leaf to the pot and quickly cover with water, filling almost to the top. Reduce your heat, cover your pot, and let simmer for a good four hours or so. Your water should reduce by about half – if necessary, add more to keep the liquid level up.
After a few solid hours of simmering, you’re going to end up with a savory-smelling, dark, earthy vegetable stock. This stuff is recipe gold! Now, you can either fish out the veggie remains, or you can pour off the broth, but you’ll want to end up with a translucent, ‘clean’ liquid – no squishy remnants floating around! I like to portion it out into old mason jars, but you can store it in anything. It will keep for around a week in the fridge, or up to 6 months in the freezer.
*** There’s no salt in there, so you’ll have to add salt when you utilize the broth.
Use your homemade stock as a perfect starter for soups, sauces, or if you’re feeling adventurous, you could even try a vegan risotto. Be creative, and most importantly, have fun with it!