Soil Building & Seasonal Satisfaction
A kind farmer friend recently gifted us with a glorious bag of potatoes, combining German Butterballs with red skinned and purple varieties. All are delicious in their own way and experimenting to learn which does what best is a delightful exercise. In my experience, those heritage German Butterballs do everything well; whether boiled, roasted, pan fried, baked, scalloped, mashed, you name it, they’re fabulous. They also contribute greatly to hearty seasonal soups, and as freezing nights bring frosty mornings, my soup pot is often simmering on the stove.
In the garden or on the farm, potatoes are valued as one of the most nutrient-dense subsistence crops, right along with beans and peas. Anyone hoping to provide much of their food from the land knows that potatoes are a generous crop in several ways; not only do they offer strong nutritional gifts, but they also are a gift that keeps on giving. As all potato growers know, you never quite manage to harvest them all, so each spring, any little escapees will push up leaves and create a new potato colony to feed your family for free. When making those enormous rolling manor lawns, English estate owners traditionally used potatoes as a cleansing crop. Planted thickly, potato plants rapidly out-compete weeds and their deep-delving roots open heavy soils like living shovels.
Potatoes On The Table
In recent years, low-carb diets have been a popular fad, causing potatoes to fall from favor (except for during certain holidays!). It’s true that potatoes are starchy vegetables, with less fiber than many others. Like corn, winter squash, sweet potatoes, and beans, peas and lentils, potatoes are usually considered a side dish, yet all around the world, people have lived and worked hard while eating largely of these stalwart veggies. After all, our bodies convert starches (carbs) to glucose, which fuels our bodies (especially our brains). Even as a side, potatoes bring more to the table than white rice and pasta, from various minerals (depending on your soil) to potassium (an important electrolyte) and enough Vitamin C (an antioxidant) to prevent scurvy. If you don’t peel them, potato skins contribute fiber as well. What’s not to love?
Satisfying Seasonal Soups
Since my soup pot is already on the stovetop, it’s super easy to stir together a tasty melange and create some sort of soup. My soups often feature leftovers, from raw or roasted vegetables to post-holiday turkey and caramelized onions. That makes the recipes hard to duplicate but half the charm of inventive cooking is that very evanescence. Today, my soup pot filled up with the usual starters; a splash of avocado oil (though any kind will do), some chopped up onion, garlic, and celery and a sprinkle of my current favorite herb salt. (Right now it’s the rosemary and garlic blend, both from the garden.)
Next came a lonely carrot, some kale stems (I add the greens later) and some of those plump potatoes (Today it’s the red skin’s turn). All that sizzled gently in the covered pot until the vegetables sweated a bit, which concentrates their flavors nicely. At that point in the process, I’ll add enough water or broth to cover everything, by an inch or so if I want a thicker soup and by several inches if the goal is a brothier verson. Browsing the fridge, I found several things I could add, such as the caramelized onions, some smoked salmon, and a chunk of ham.
Time To Choose
In the soup making process, this is a decision point: When cooking for myself, the soups often turn out to be vegetarian or pescatarian if not vegan, but when family is here, I often add carnivore food, such as ham or Italian sausages. Since my son is now with us half the week, today’s soup was enriched with split peas and ham. I cooked the dried split peas with more garlic, a little rosemary and thyme, and some of the fattier ham, which I fished out before pureeing the soup with my favorite stick blender. (What a great invention!) Now a taste test provides another decision point; a little black pepper? Some smoked paprika? A tad more salt, or a little splash of cider vinegar?
When experimenting, start with small amounts and give them a little time for the effects to develop. If anyone else is around, I offer a spoonful and ask for opinions and ideas. If not, I wing it, being mindful that my sensitivity to saltiness and sweetness is gradually becoming less acute, so I tend to under-season until I get a second opinion. This is especially wise with soup, which matures in complexity and deepens in flavor as it mellows. I like to make soup a day ahead of when I plan to serve it, leaving it in the fridge overnight. Since there are usually several kinds in that crowded fridge, I’ve learned to label and date the lids (blue painters tape makes a very distinctive marker). Some of each soup goes in the freezer as well, similarly labeled and dated to avoid fishing out anonymous packages or elderly yogurt containers and trying to decide what buried treasures they contain… Onward, right?