Knock, knock. Anyone here?
Hi, internet! I'm Rachel. After years of home cooking adventures, informed largely by my love of cookbooks and cooking blogs, I decided it was time to join the ranks of those leaving their stamp on a small corner of the World Wide Web. Welcome.
While I'm not quite sure where to start, matzah ball soup seems like as good a place as any. I didn't eat much matzah ball soup growing up, though always I enjoyed it the twice a year it landed in my bowl on Rosh HaShanah and Passover. Making the soup was a family affair. My mom made the broth - chicken, and from scratch - its long simmer filling our house with an intoxicating homey smell for days. My mom would prepare for these chicken broth marathons all year, meticulously bagging chicken bones and parts and sending me or my brother down to the basement freezer to squirrel them away in the compartment I dubbed The Carcass Casket. Grandma made the matzah balls. I was devastated to learn years later that she used Manischewitz packets.
A few things have changed from the matzah ball soup of my youth. First, I live a few thousand miles from The Carcass Casket at my parents' house in New Jersey. I've been in San Francisco for the last three years, having moved in between from North Carolina to DC to New Hampshire and Boston. Matzah ball soup has become the taste of home in my adult life. It's the taste of my home now, with Ryan, my midwestern Methodist husband whose childhood included exactly zero matzah balls. We scarfed down hot bowls of matzah ball soup after digging out my snowed-in car out on the street outside Ryan's apartment in Cambridge, Mass, with just the window scraper and kitchen appliances, no shovel around. It warmed our frozen fingers. The first meal I made in our current apartment, our first home together, was a pot of matzah ball soup. We ate it while sitting in collapsable camping chairs from Dick's Sporting Goods, giddily admiring the view of the city and bay from our new perch.
Second, I stopped eating meat four and a half years ago, so Jewish home cooking looks slightly different. Same idea, less schmaltz.
Third, I've become a picky - er, is "exacting" more polite? - home cook in my own right. And I have a bone to pick with store-bought vegetable broth. In my experience, it is either overpoweringly acidic, or bland as anything, or just...odd. Tinny, perhaps. Most from-scratch vegetable broth recipes out there are also way off - either deeply complicated, or, worse, take the same "odds-and-ends" approach to stock-making that meat broths can use. If you are using only the ends, the scraps, the tops and bits and bobs of your vegetables, you will end up with a mild-tasting broth that tastes vaguely of your compost heap.
I am here to tell you that the best vegetable broth is also the simplest. I have tried dozens of iterations over the last few years, and I can guarantee that nothing can beat a long, low simmer of nothing but onion, celery, and carrot, finely chopped. Wash your vegetables well, peel them, discard the peels, and discard anything you wouldn't want to eat. Your broth will be better - no, best! - for having done so. I've tried any number of add-ins - garlic cloves, leeks, bay leaves, springs of rosemary or thyme - but the purest, sweetest, most round-flavored broths I've made come from nothing but these three vegetables, treated well, and simmered long.
Best, Simplest Vegetable Broth
1 lb carrots, peeled and tops removed
1 lb celery, leaves and root removed
1.5 lbs yellow onions (3 medium), peeled
Finely chop the the vegetables and add them to a large (8 quart+) heavy-bottomed pot. Add 20 cups (5 quarts) filtered water. Bring the pot to a boil over high heat, and quickly lower the heat to bring the pot to a simmer. Let the pot simmer, partly covered, for 5-6 hours. Cover the pot, remove from heat, and let it cool completely - either overnight or while you're at work.
Once the broth is cooled to room temperature, set a fine-mesh strainer over another pot or deep bowl. Scoop half the veggies from your pot of broth into the strainer. Let it sit for a minute, then press the vegetables with a wooden spoon. You will continue to extrude flavorful broth from the vegetables. I typically keep pressing until the liquid is gone and left mashing against drained, floppy vegetables. Repeat with the remaining veggies in the pot.
Broth will keep for about a week in the fridge, and freezes beautifully beyond that.
Yield: 14 cups / 3.5 quarts of vegetable broth.