With just a little hint of the warmth of Provence, this simple vegetarian stew is quick to put together and will make your house warm and inviting while it simmers.
This has been a winter of cold and grey, with frequent snows and rains or sleets. Lots of time to stay in the house, light a fire, and make soup or bread. We crave some sunshine, but seem to only get it in little splashes of light now and then. Wait a minute, this sounds like February! Usually, by the middle of the month we start to feel the ice loosen up and the days a bit warmer with the noticeably longer sunlight hours. It has been a little longer coming this year, but the maple trees are being tapped and soon the sap will run –– our first sign of spring, maple syrup our first crop.
One of the storms this week was particularly gloomy, and I needed to warm up the house with good aromas. Soup, of course. No traveling to the market to get ingredients, so refrigerator soup it would be.
My supplies of fresh were definitely low. I had a large but sad looking leek, a slightly wilted bunch of celery, the sad little remnants of a head of purple cabbage, a lovely little head of fennel, always carrots in the refrigerator, and some mushrooms that told me they needed to be used while firm and delicious. From the pantry, I pulled canned tomatoes and beans, and the lovely dried herbs as well. The last of my stale homemade bread became croutons.
Use what is in your own refrigerator of course, that’s the point of it all! Zucchini, broccoli, squash, peas, turnips, etc. I hesitate to even call this a recipe, it’s more a technique. Sauté some aromatics, add some herbs and more veggies, some water, and give then all a nice long simmer.
I was going to add some frozen vegetables as well, but it didn’t need it at all. I ended up with a delightful vegetable stew that gave us a couple of meals and some for the freezer as well.
But, now I think I need to get to the market! The sun’s out!
Refrigerator Vegetable Stew
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large leek, sliced
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 head fennel, chopped
- 2 ribs celery, chopped
- 1 large carrot, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
- 1 cup or so shredded purple cabbage
- 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 13-ounce can cannellini beans
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp. herbes de Provence*
- ½ cup red wine or 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper
- Croutons to garnish
Heat a heavy stock pot over medium high and add the oil. Sauté the leek, onion, and fennel just until softened. Add the celery and carrot and garlic cloves and saute for a few more minutes.
Add the mushrooms, cabbage, tomatoes, beans, bay leaves, herbs, and red wine. Use the tomato can to add 1 1/2 cans of water. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 45 minutes, until everything is tender and well flavored. Check for seasoning along the way.
Serve with the croutons for some crunch.
Herbes de Provence Blend
You can buy some lovely blends of Herbes do Provence, but it’s also fun to put your own together. Use this blend on just about everything from potatoes to casseroles. I do not grind up the herbs in this mixture, leaving them as whole as possible, except for the seeds. When I use it, I measure out the blend into my hand and crush over the food to release the oils then.
I love the flavor of lavender, as does my family, so I include it here, and highly recommend. If you are not so sure, start with less and add more if you like. It is traditional to have a little rosemary in this blend, but I think it is easy for the rosemary to take over. Go ahead and put some in, but do so with caution!
- 1 tbsp. fennel seeds
Gently mix with:
- 1 tbsp. thyme
- 1 tbsp. basil
- 1 tbsp. summer savory
- 1 tbsp. marjoram
- 1/2 tsp. rosemary
- 1 tsp. lavender flowers
To make the croutons, tear or cut two slices of bread into desired size. Spray lightly with olive oil, season with salt, pepper, onion, and garlic powers, and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 450 until browned on one side, then turn and finish browning, You can also make these under a broiler, or in a large frying pan.
You can be creative with the seasonings you use. Add smoked paprika, for example, some seeds, or other favorite spice blend.
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