Chowders

I’m a fan of thick, hearty soups. Although I make miso or hot and sour soup when I’m down with a bug, I gravitate toward soups that you know are filling just by looking in the pot.

Last week, I mentioned a range of thickeners that can be added to the pot. My favorites are flour-and-butter roux, as in 30-Minute Cherry Tomato Soup. and potatoes. Potatoes have the advantage of acting as both main ingredient and thickener and can be the prominent—or even the primary—ingredient; they can be added to the pot precooked or raw. Like tomatoes, potatoes are mostly water, but the portion that is solid is almost entirely starch. As you heat potatoes, the starch softens, expands, and gels, making the soup more viscous. Keep this in mind when you’re preparing a potato-thickened soup: Potato starch gels at a lower temperature than flour. The result is a far thicker soup. Learn to make Hearty Corn Chowder and Boozy Potato Chowder

30-Minute Soups

Soup. That short word has endless variations. A walk down the canned soup aisle, a price check of a gourmet carton, or a search for a soup recipe is enough to convince anyone that making a steaming, scrumptious pot from scratch is a complex, challenging process. But soup is as simple as the word. This dish is an excellent place to take the leap from following a recipe to improvising a meal.

At its most basic, soup is four components: a base, a thickener, a liquid, and a main ingredient. The liquid and main ingredient can be thought of as the essence: add 3 parts liquid to 2 parts main ingredient, and it’s soup. Add a base to boost the flavor and a thickener to improve the texture, and you’re competing with that gourmet carton. But it’s likely you’ve never seen a recipe that puts it this way—until now. Learn to make Fresh Improv Soup and 30-Minute Cherry Tomato Soup

Tomatillos

If you’re a gardener, you likely end your season with a rack of green tomatoes and a quest to find a way to use them. Sorry, but this is not that recipe. I gave up on green tomato salsas several years ago—the vinegar required to make the salsa shelf stable when water-bath canning has always seemed overpowering.

Instead, I fell for the lovely green lanterns that grow into tomatillos, the traditional base for salsa verde. These little husked fruits clock in at pH 3.83, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, well below the safe level for water-bath canning. The added acid simply covers the secondary low-acid vegetables and boosts the flavor.

Tomatillos are as easy to grow as tomatoes; just be sure to buy two plants so that they cross-pollinate. Not surprisingly, I prefer them grilled like tomatoes—and have found yet another beverage use for their juice. Learn to make Grilled Tomatillo Salsa and Grilled Tomatillo Margaritas

Grilling for the Future

Braised, basted, glazed, smoked, roasted, grilled—you may associate these words with large slabs of sizzling meat, but I visualize mounds of breakfast potatoes and eggs, cherry-filled scones, beets, garlic, and practically any other fruit or vegetable you can imagine. I also use these techniques when preserving food; they are the essence of making that bag of frozen corn or jar of raspberry syrup Twice as Tasty.

Grilling is one of the best techniques in my preserving repertoire. It’s easy, it’s low tech, and it takes you outdoors on a sweltering summer day or even a snow-bound midwinter one. Although grilling means extra effort initially, it can save minutes to hours on canning day or when throwing together a busy work night dinner—in other words, it saves time when it matters most. Read more about grilling vegetables and fruits