Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Unphotogenic soups.

I have actually been cooking quite a bit lately, though I've only been posting about things peripherally related to cooking. I realized why, just last night. I make unphotogenic soups. I don't know why, but the photos look terrible, even though the soups look fine. I don't want to post the pictures, so I don't post about soup. And soup is pretty much what I've been making this winter.

When I was in college, I made "kitchen sink" soup all the time - vegetarian broth, a can of tomatoes, and the odds and ends in the fridge, usually beans, pasta and bits of vegetables. These soups were frugal, nutritious, and ultimately a relief to stop making. Through my post-college years, I made soup less and less, until just a few soups formed my repertoire. I made carrot-ginger, minted pea, and lentil soups, corn chowder, and that was all. Even giving up vegetarianism didn't expand my interest in soups. I just added some sausage to my lentil soup, some bacon to my corn chowder and called it a day.

I had not yet discovered the secret of stock.

I had been a vegetarian for quite a long time, you see, and I still thought that the chicken broth from the supermarket was the same thing as chicken stock. So, when I would occasionally make a soup, the results were fine, but not exciting. In order to make a soup that really tasted like something, I need cream to round out the mouthfeel. Of course, what I really needed was gelatin; I just didn't know it.

There was no eureka moment. I don't remember the first stock I made. I'm sure it happened after I started dating my boyfriend, who loves roast chicken, something I never really made before. Roast chicken leaves carcasses, and I hate to waste. At some point, I started to look for organic chicken backs on sale at Whole Foods, so that I could keep up with my stock consumption without having to roast a chicken every week. Vegetable scraps gained a special spot in the freezer. And of course, when I started buying beef directly from the farmer, I received free boxes of bones, and I became accustomed to have rich beef stock in my freezer.

Now I make soup almost every week, and I wonder how I spent all those years without it. I had somehow forgotten how much I like comfortable, homey feeling of soup on the stove. In the past month or so, I've made Julia Child's French onion soup, potato-cheddar soup, garlic/lemon soup with poached eggs, and a kale-tortellini soup. Since every one was begun with a stock of bones and scraps, these soups, in addition to being flavorful and nutritious, have given me that virtuous sense of having made something from nothing, a rare and satisfying feeling indeed.

I just wish I could photograph them.

1 comment:

lindy said...

In my view, soup almost never looks pretty in a photograph. Even the cleverest photographers (and this group certainly does not include me) have a hard time making soup look good.