LEE -- Shelley Swindell and Heather Early's recipe for making soup is one part experience, one part experimentation.
The co-owners of the famous Joe's Diner in Lee offer daily soups created from scratch using specific recipes they've learned over the years or inspired by leftovers, such as the diner's popular sausage soup.
"One day we had a lot of [link] sausage leftover and said, ‘Why not sausage soup?" Early said.
Immediately, Swindell's creative juices began to flow.
Remembering how her mother made soup with "everything left in the refrigerator," Swindell immediately suggested adding every vegetable available in the diner's kitchen to make it chunky.
"I put in spinach, carrots, beans, zucchini, squash and a little bit of Italian seasoning," she said. "When you make sausage soup, you don't want mush, so make sure the zucchini and squash stay firm."
Swindell and Early are among the several Berkshirites sharing their soup recipes either handed down from generation to generation, found on the Internet or created on the fly. Nearly all say they tweak their recipes to satisfy personal taste or those anxious to dip their spoons into a bowl of meat and/or vegetables stewing in a hot broth.
For Amanda Gadd, soup making is about meeting the demands of family and friends as well as healthy eating. The Pittsfield woman is often asked to make her signature chicken noodle soup because it's "more like a stew than a soup." However, she is particularly proud of her personal favorite, cream of mushroom soup made with shiitake, portobello or any other fresh mushrooms.
Gadd cooks a large quantity of the soup, freezing some for future meals, including use in casseroles as canned soups are a thing of the past.
"Prior to making my own, I never had cream of mushroom soup other than from a can," she said. "Now in my household, we can no longer open any can of soup."
Gadd also views homemade soup as one way to promote healthy eating.
Whether a piping-hot classic chicken noodle or chilled cucumber and dill, local soup aficiandos say homemade soup is a year-round staple of anyone's diet -- provided any is left in the pot.
"We went down from two to one soup a day in the summer, but we would always run out," said Early.
SAUSAGE AND VEGETABLE SOUP
Shelley Swindell and Heather Early, co-owners, Joe's Diner, Lee
1lb sweet sausage links
1lb hot sausage links
1 yellow onion
2 stalks celery
1 cup zucchini
1 cup yellow squash
1 cup fresh spinach
1 cup carrots
1 can Northern (white) beans or kidney beans
2 28oz-cans beef stock, no salt added
1 28oz-can diced tomatoes, no salt added
1 clove garlic
2 bay leaves
2 tbs oil and butter
Italian seasoning and salt and peper to taste
Saute carrots, onions and celery in oil and butter while boiling sausage.
Cube sausage links, throw in pot with sauteed vegatables, diced tomatoes, zucchini, squash, beans and cook at medium heat for 20 minutes.
Add beef stock, garlic, bay leaves, bring to boil then turn to low heat for 20 minutes. Add seasoning and spinach at low heat.
CREAM OF MUSHROOM SOUP
Amanda Gadd, Pittsfield
1 ounce dried mushrooms (I use a mixed package)
1/2 cup olive oil
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, sage, and thyme
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground
2 pounds of fresh mushrooms- shiitake, button, crimini... cleaned and chopped.
6 cups of stock or broth- I like 4 cups beef broth and 2 cups of vegetable stock, but you can do chicken broth or stock.
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1. Soak the dry mushrooms in 1 cup of warm water for 20 to 30 minutes, until plump.
2. Strain the soaking liquid through a coffee filter and set aside, along with the reconstituted mushrooms, until needed.
3. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over a medium flame. Bundle the rosemary and sage together and tie with kitchen twine (this makes it easier to remove later, but if you don't have kitchen twine just toss it all in without). When the oil is hot, add the herbs and sizzle for a few minutes on both sides to infuse the oil.
4. Add the onion, garlic, salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent but not brown.
5. Turn the flame to high and add the fresh mushrooms.
6. Cook for 10 minutes, during which the mushrooms will give off their liquid (which should evaporate quickly due to the high heat) and deflate significantly. Stir occasionally.
7. Add in stock and the dried mushrooms along with the soaking water.
8. Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the herbs, then add the cream and butter. Set aside a few cups of the chopped mushrooms and broth to add back in later. With the rest, working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth. At this point you have two options: Place the reserve and the blended mushrooms back in the pot to simmer until you're ready to serve or place the reserve and the blended mushrooms in a crock pot to simmer on low until the next day. I like the second option as it deepens the flavors tremendously.
HOMEMADE CHICKEN SOUP
Sonya Daly, Pittsfield
CHICKEN STOCK: I save the carcass of a baked chicken if there is a good amount of meat left on it. It can be frozen in a large Zip-loc freezer bag until ready to use.
To make chicken stock:
Place carcass in Dutch oven. Add water to cover chicken. Add 3 stalks celery with leaves, cut up; 1 carrot, quartered; 1 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper, 1 large onion quartered. I leave the peel on for flavor.
Cover and bring to boiling; reduce heat and simmer about an hour or until meat is tender and falling away from the bones. Remove chicken and place in a baking dish to cool. To strain stock, line a sieve with one or two layers of cheesecloth; set over a large bowl. Pour stock mixture through. Discard vegetables.
Allow chicken stock to cool, skim fat off the top and discard. Add stock to Dutch oven. Once the chicken has cooled, remove meat (I pick it off by hand) from the bones, add to stock and discard skin and bones. Peel and slice two to three carrots, 1 stalk celery, sliced, 1 onion, chopped (1/2 cup).
Bring to a medium boil. Add Rosemary (about 1/2 tsp.), salt and pepper to taste. Boil for 20 to 30 minutes, checking carrots for slight tenderness. In the meantime, peel and cube 4 medium potatoes (about 2 cups). Add to soup, boil about 15 to 20 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through but not falling apart.
You can also add fresh or frozen green beans or corn. Add to soup for the last 8 to 10 minutes or until tender.
To reach Dick Lindsay:
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