I began using vegetable broth as a base for my soups recently when my vegetarian husband discovered I had covertly been using chicken broth for many years. I know, shameful. But the truth is he gave me permission to do so early on in our relationship so long as he didn't know. But once the cat, or rather the chicken, was out of the bag, I had to make the switch to vegetable broth. A paltry substitute in my opinion given that it's usually flavored with an inordinate amount of tomato paste or carrot juice, loaded with preservatives and then trucked across the country to sit on a shelf for who knows how long. So after suffering through a few bland renditions of my favorites soups, I decided to make my own. As I loaded vegetable scraps into a pot I felt guilty for not having made my broth from scratch from the beginning. But we're all on a journey with food and eating and cooking, and this is where I'm at. Although it is certainly not as convenient, this broth surpasses packaged vegetable broths in taste and is less expensive.
1 leek, white and pale green parts, washed well and chopped
2 small yellow onions, diced
4 garlic cloves, smashed
2-3 carrots, diced
2-3 celery stalks, diced
1 cup tomatoes, diced
Sweat the leek, onions, garlic, carrots and celery in a large stock pot with a two-count of olive oil and a generous pinch of sea salt for about five minutes until the vegetables are soft and aromatic. Unlike a saute, in which your goal is to preserve the texture of the vegetables by cooking briefly in a small amount of oil over high heat, a sweat is done slowly over low heat and, with the help of salt, encourages the vegetables to release their juicy, flavorful goodness.
Toss in a bunch of thyme and parsley tied together with kitchen twine or just allowed to float about loosely. Add the tomatoes, several black peppercorns and about one gallon of water, and simmer uncovered over medium-low heat for about one hour.
Strain out the vegetables, herbs and spices and allow the broth to cool uncovered. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze and use as needed. This broth is great with the Ribolitta Italian Bean Soup recipe below.