People automatically think of soup as cold weather food, but this may be the best time of all for making a vegetable soup. The flavors of freshly harvested vegetables are brilliant and there are so many to choose from. Use the ones you have grown yourself, or check the awesome displays at the local farmers market.
I prefer to use chicken stock with my soups rather than plain water. There's so much more flavor in a good stock and I was so pleased with the way the stock I made a few days ago turned out. It was like Jello, and that is always a sign that you've incorporated plenty of flavorful collagen into the stock.
To get at the collagen in the chicken, I first divide a whole, free-range bird into pieces, then use a cleaver to cut those pieces even smaller through the bone, or at least give all the bones a good whack to crack them open. This exposes the interior of the bones where the collagen resides. The collagen oozes flavor and gives the stock a rich, unctuous feel in the mouth. Simply procede to make the stock as you usually would, including aromatic vegetables, thyme, parsley, bay leaf and a few peppercorns.
For the vegetables in our soup, I used several small- to medium-sized carrots from the garden, both yellow and orange carrots. I have quite a variety growing, so it was just a matter of cleaning and peeling whatever came out of the ground. They were incredibly fresh tasting. I also used two medium leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced, three stalks of celery sliced thin and a couple of cloves of garlic, smash and then chopped.
My favorite way to clean a leek is to first trim the dark green part, whittling it away as if I were carving a spear point until I start to see white. Then I slice the leek lengthwise all the way through, leaving some of the root end intact to hold the two long pieces together. Then wash the leek under cold running water, separating some of the layers to remove any sand or grit.
Cook the vegetables gently in a heavy pot with a couple tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Season the vegetables generously with coarse salt (a teaspoon or a little more) to draw out their liquids. Cover the pot and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are soft. Now add 8 cups of stock and 1 1/2 cups chopped tomato, either fresh with the skins and seeds removed, or canned diced tomatoes.
Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and continue cooking until the vegetables are all cooked through and the flavors have melded. Add a bit more salt to taste if necessary. I did not add any pepper to this soup, preferring it just the way it was with the clean, bright vegetable flavors. You could also add green beans or potatoes. In fact, I had some cauliflower left over in the fridge and added that, broken into small florets.
You could serve this soup with a good rustic bread, sliced thick and toasted or grilled. But we had made a trip to the farmers market to check out the peaches and while we were there saw squash blossoms for sale. We had to have them, so we made squash blossom quesadillas with some fresh mozzarella we had just waiting in the fridge for such an occasion. It reminded us of some of the meals we've had with our friends in Mexico, very simple and casual but extremely satisfying.