Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dave's Garbage Minestrone

A guest post by Dave:

One of my hidden talents is making a meal out of whatever is left over in the pantry.  After two or three nights of incredible Cooking-the-Seasons meals, Renée sometimes takes a night off.  She will complain to me, "there's nothing in the fridge," in response to which I only chuckle.  That saggy celery?  That half pint of olives?  That leftover rice?  Nothing?  Throw in a few scraps of meat and I will produce something that tastes at least half as good as the meal it was derived from.  One great pleasure I take from our surfeit of CSA veggies is coming up with clever ways to turn them into calories.

So it was with gusto that I accepted the challenge put to me the other night at Renée's bachelor uncle's house.  She had roasted a chicken the night before, and as I hate to throw out a perfectly good carcass, I decided on soup.  Making the stock would not be a problem.  There were no onions, but I put the chicken carcass in a pot with 6 cups of water, cut up 3 carrots and 3 celery stalks that were definitely past their prime but not rotten, 8 peppercorns, 2 bay leaves, a bit of thyme and rosemary (I usually use tarragon), and let it simmer all afternoon.

In the evening it was time to make a meal out of this.  First I strained out everything that had been cooking in the water all day.  I know, you're saying, "Even the meat, Dave?  EVEN the MEAT?!?"  Yes, even the meat.  Taste it!  Yeah, what do you say now?  Doesn't taste much like meat anymore, does it?  The flavor has in fact gotten all infused in the water, which is what we wanted it to do when we decided to simmer it all afternoon.  Don't be sad!  That meat has done its job.  It can now go into the garbage can.

Okay, now what to add to this nice stock?  Checking the cupboards.... whew, how can he live like this?... let's see, this can of garbanzo beans will be nice.  Strain them, throw them in.  Then some carrots and celery from the newer bag (I used up the older ones making the stock).  A big can of crushed tomatoes?  Yes please.  Tomatoes give lots of flavor.  Diced up two potatoes.  A couple handfuls of macaroni.  The last handful of green beans from the bottom of the veggie drawer.  Bring it to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes.

While simmering, season to taste.  I am gun-shy of spices because I know once you go too far you cannot come back.  So I add salt, pepper, a bit of cayenne, basil, dried parsley, and a little powdered garlic EXTREMELY slowly, bit by bit.  After many excruciating minutes of this, I ask Renée to have a taste.  She tells me it's completely flavorless and starts dumping in spices willy-nilly.  "STOP!" I think.  But we've been through this before, and I know not to get in her way.  When she finishes her promiscuous seasoning, the soup tastes just right.  The moral of the story is either, A) don't be so afraid of spices, soup can handle it, or b) listen to your wife, she knows what she's talking about.

Serve with salad and toasted bread with raw garlic rubbed on it.