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Taking Stock of Vegetables

Fine Cooking Issue 76
Photo: Scott Phillips
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Leek tops, fennel stalks, parsley stems, corn cobs, mushroom stems—to some people these are trash or compost, but to others, they’re the start of something delicious: vegetable stock. For dishes that feature vegetables, like corn chowder or butternut squash risotto, vegetable stock can be a better choice than chicken broth because it’s lighter and sweeter, and its flavor won’t compete with the starring ingredients the way chicken broth might. And if you’re a vegetarian, vegetable stock is a key substitute in recipes that would be vegetarian if not for chicken or beef broth.

We’ve yet to find a brand of canned vegetable stock that we like. That’s why we came up with this basic recipe, plus some suggestions for embellishing it to suit your needs.

Instead of tossing out vegetable trimmings, stash them in the freezer until you have enough to make stock.

Customize your stock

The recipe makes a nicely balanced vegetable stock that’s good for almost any dish, but you can adjust it depending on the trimmings you have or the dish you’re using it in. If you’re making mushroom soup with marjoram in it, you might add 2 cups mushroom trimmings and a sprig of marjoram to the stock recipe. Here are ideas for other additions. Depending on how dominant a flavor you want, use 1 to 4 cups of these enhancement vegetables.

Subtle flavors
Use these vegetables or their trimmings with confidence:

• Celery root
• Corn cobs
• Eggplant
• Mushrooms
• Parsnips
• Summer squash
• Swiss chard
• Tomatoes
• Winter squash (seeds and stringy insides, too)

Assertive flavors
Use these vegetables or their trimmings judiciously and only when you want to emphasize the vegetable’s flavor (for example, using an asparagus-enhanced stock in an asparagus soup):

• Asparagus
• Beets and beet greens (will turn the stock pink)
• Broccoli
• Brussels sprouts
• Cauliflower
• Potato (may cloud the stock)
• Rutabaga
• Turnips

Tender, leafy herbs such as basil, cilantro, and tarragon add a decidedly fresh flavor to a stock. Add four to eight stems to the basic recipe. Tarragon is strong, so use it sparingly. Woody herbs such as marjoram, oregano, rosemary, and sage are more potent and the stems can impart a bitter flavor if left in a stock, so just use a couple of sprigs and strain immediately.


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