When I first started making vegetarian soups, I worried that they would be watery or bland without the round, soothing backdrop of good chicken stock. In its stead, some folks take the time to make a rich roasted vegetable stock, but the point of soup, to me, is a meal that’s warm and satisfying on the fly—something simple but downright good.
My winter soup fits the bill. It’s as nimble and changing as my mood. The only constant is the butternut squash (which breaks down and both colors and flavors the broth to a richer state, like magic) and aged Parmesan (rind simmered in the soup for depth, and shavings over the top for a salty satisfaction). I usually add potatoes (which thicken the broth) and something green (for good health). The rest, my friends, is utterly subject to your whim.
Besides chopping vegetables, there’s not much to this. You’ll find your way. Promise.
This is the kind of soup you’ll want to eat for days on end when the temperature drops and the ground is suddenly covered in white. And if you make it in your biggest pot, you can. Served with thick slices of whole grain bread and butter, it will leave you so contented you'll need little more than a juicy Clementine for dessert.
So what’s the real magic of this soup? It’s almost guaranteed to serve as many as can fit around your table (or will double or triple till it does). Keep a pot of this going once a week in the winter and you might find your table full of friends and neighbors, waiting with their hands wrapped on eager bowls.
Ladle it forth. The sun is setting later now but there's much to winter yet ahead.
Magic Winter Squash and Bean Soup
Serves 6 to 8
4 large carrots, scrubbed
4 stalks celery, plus leaves
2 handfuls fingerling potatoes, scrubbed
1 large squash, peeled and cleaned (or 20 ounces cubed butternut squash)
4 small campari or 3 plum tomatoes (optional)
1 large bunch kale
1 small wedge aged Parmigiano Reggiano
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Several sprigs of fresh thyme
6 to 8 cups water, plus as needed
Pinch red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 15-oz can of your favorite beans, rinsed and drained
1. Slice the carrots and celery plus the celery leaves. Quarter the potatoes and cut the squash into chunks. Quarter the tomatoes. Remove the ribs from the kale and chop into bite-sized pieces. Set all the vegetables aside. Trim the parmesan away from the rind (or use a rind saved from a previous wedge) and set the rest aside.
2.Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add the carrots, celery and celery leaves and stir to coat. Cook until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, squash, tomatoes, water, thyme and parmesan rind and bring to a simmer. Add a generous pinch of red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are tender, the squash is beginning to break down, and the soup is full of flavor, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
3. Stir in the beans and cook to warm through, 2 minutes. Remove the lid and add the kale. Stir to cook (uncovered) until bright green and tender, 3 minutes more. Ladle into bowls and grate parmesan cheese generously over the top. Serve warm with buttered bread.