Abundant Optimism

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Minestrone Soup for Saving Money

by Tamara Martfeld

Many years ago, before refrigeration, the cooks kept a pot on the stove. The leftovers from all meals went into this pot. Water was added as needed. When there was enough soup for a meal, it was eaten. Any leftover soup was used as the starter for the next pot of soup. The taste depended on what was put into it, and sometimes it did not taste that great. However, the cooks could not afford to waste anything and this was a way to keep the food edible.

Today we have refrigeration. We do not need to keep a pot on the stove to save our leftovers. However, many people put the leftovers in the refrigerator until a nice science project is in the works, and then toss them. This defeats the purpose of saving the leftovers (unless, of course, you WANT a science project!) There is a better method with a tasty result!

Keep a large container in the freezer. Put all leftovers into this container. If the item will need cut for the soup, it is easier to cut it before it is frozen. Remove any visible fat before adding the next item to keep the soup healthier. When there is enough for soup, defrost and heat the contents of the container, adding water and/or spices if needed. If there is leftover soup, it can be frozen in individual portions for later meals or as a starter for the next batch of soup. The advantage we have over our ancestors is that we can have more than one container to separate food which may not taste good in the same pot. We also do not have to use the energy to keep a pot safely heated at all times.

I have successfully added several things to my freezer container. I add the juice from all vegetables I use from a can including water chestnuts, garbanzo beans, and beets. On the few occasions I have had the canned Chinese dinner, I have added the juice from the vegetable can instead of tossing as they instruct. I add all juice used in cooking fresh vegetables that is not eaten as part of the meal. If I fry or brown meat, when I am done I add a little water to the pan to get the juices from the bottom of the pan and then add it to my container. I have mixed beef, turkey, chicken, Cornish game hen, and pork as the meat in the soup. If I need fresh vegetables for a recipe and have too much, it goes into the container. If there is lots of juice from tomatoes I cut, the juice goes into the container. If a fresh vegetable is on the verge of going bad, into the container it goes (I have never added greens such as lettuce or spinach). Leftover spaghetti is an excellent addition. Almost anything which is left over in my house is fair game, even mashed potatoes. When my container is full, I start another container and continue to add until I am in the mood for soup. I usually have several containers before I make the soup. I will sometimes keep flavors separate. For example I currently have the juice from cooking corned beef as one flavor, the juice from the canned portions of a chili I made as a second flavor, and a chicken stock as a third flavor. Although meats can successfully be put in the same soup, separating them is a valid option.

When I am ready to make soup I decide on the amount of soup I want to make based on what is in the freezer and the size of pan I want to deal with. I might use a 7 quart, 16 quart, or 22 quart pan depending on my mood. I empty the soup containers into the selected pan. I always add a few cloves of chopped garlic and other spices. I then add any fresh vegetables that are on hand and a little bit of rice and/or pasta. I will frequently add a serving or two of homemade spaghetti sauce (I freeze it in single portion sizes). Meat can be added if desired. There is usually enough liquid that I do not need to add water. I let the pot cook and blend flavors for 1-2 hours minimum, all day if I can. You can cook for a shorter period of time, but the soup is more flavorful if it is cooked longer.

How does this save money? The various juices from vegetables you bought are not tossed, and whatever nutrition they might contain is eaten. Leftovers do not turn into science projects and get tossed. Small bits of leftovers which might be tossed because of the very small amount are saved. You can hide the fact that leftovers are being used from those who refuse to eat them. If you are single, you can buy the larger portions which are usually cheaper without risking losing the product before you can eat it.

Hints: I have never tried to add fruit, their juices, or anything sweet. I donít think they will go too well in soup, but I could be wrong. I have never added lettuce, and I have never added anything with a very strong spice unless I know it will go well with other foods. If you are new to this, I suggest sticking with blander foods until you are more familiar with what goes well together.

Before adding to an existing container, scrape the fat off the top from the previous additions. My last batch of soup - approximately 40 servings of 2 cups each - had no visible fat. It is generally considered healthier to keep items lower in fat, and it is easier to remove the fat when it is frozen.

Bon Appetite!