It’s that time of year again, isn’t it? I’m referring not to holidays but to the annual wave of colds and flus making the rounds. The weather turns and folks are down for the count. I’ve got a weapon against this – it’s called soup. If you load a soup with fortifying vegetables such as onions, garlic, carrots and kale, you can think of it as a protector against the attack on your immune system. As unfancy as this soup may appear, it actually has a surprising depth and body to it. There are three little secret ingredients here: a handful of diced pancetta, a can of fire-roasted tomatoes and their tomatoey broth, and a sprinkle of grated cheese on top. Any hard cheese, nearly, will augment this soup. And those three flavors – the pork, tomato broth and cheese – make for something vaguely reminiscent of pasta in the broadest sense, keep it from being bland, and place it firmly in the category of healthy comfort food, which is my favorite. I’ve been enjoying this soup all week. And it’s done a pretty good job of keeping a teeny tiny cold from turning into a monstrous cold. Here’s to staying healthy, friends.
HEARTY VEGETABLE SOUP
Yield: 8-10 servings
Notes: This will yield a huge pot of soup. You can easily halve it. Vegetarians can forgo the pancetta and just sprinkle a little more cheese on top.
4 ounces thick pancetta, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
28 ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
4 medium potatoes, cubed
3-4 medium carrots, diced
1 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan or cheddar cheese for grating
Warm a large, heavy-bottomed pot over a medium flame. Once your pot is heated, add the pancetta and cook until some of the fat has rendered and the pancetta is just a little brown, about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
If there is more than a tablespoon of rendered fat, remove the excess. Otherwise, toss in the diced onion and saute until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the chicken or vegetable stock, the tomatoes with all of their broth, and the chile flakes and stir. Add the potatoes. Cover and reduce heat to low.
After the potatoes are about halfway cooked through (roughly 10 minutes), add the carrots. Cover.
Once both the potatoes and carrots are cooked but still firm, add the chopped kale. Stir until the kale has just wilted.
Ladle soup into bowls, top with grated cheese, and serve hot.
The soup should keep for nearly a week in the fridge, and will freeze marvelously.