The Portuguese love their soups. Ten years ago when we visited, we realized it was the only way to get your vegetables — main courses were strictly animal protein plus a variation of potato. Fried potatoes with meat, or boiled potatoes with fish.
Last December when I was in the Açores, I frequently ordered soup to beat back to cold dampness. One day it was fava bean soup, the next day it was pea soup. Both were purees with the named vegetable and — you guessed it — potato. They were indistinguishable.
Soups can be warming, but as the weather warms up they can also be bright and textured. Think light broths. Add some barely cooked freshly shelled fava beans and peas, diced baby carrots and spring onions, with a little drizzle of early harvest olive oil. If you’re daring, top it all off with a poached egg.
A spring soup like this can not hide behind crappy ingredients. The base, a homemade chicken broth, is essential.
Two carrots, peeled and chopped
Two stalks of celery, chopped
One onion, peeled and cut in half
One bay leaf
I prefer to buy a whole chicken and cut it up myself — stay tuned for a video lesson on how to do this. I use the leftover carcass to make fresh chicken broth. Place the carcass in a large pot and cover with cold water. Add the carrots, celery, onion, and bay leaf. (I don’t add salt. I salt the broth when I’m making the final dish.)
Allow it to simmer very slowly, barely bubbling, for a couple hours. I like to use a fine mesh skimmer to skim the impurities that float on the surface of the water.
After two hours, carefully remove the carcass and the vegetables from the broth. You don’t want to disturb the water as there are also a lot of impurities at the bottom of the pot. You want to have as clear a broth as possible (some other time, we’ll talk about making a crystal clear consommé).
Hold the skimmer over a bowl, and carefully ladle the broth (scoop from the top) into the bowl. Stop ladling when there is about an inch of broth left. Toss the leftover broth and the solids.
Allow the broth to cool. You can then skim the fat off the top. I like to place the chicken broth into ice cube trays and freeze them if I don’t plan to use them right away. I use this broth as a base for risotto, also.
NOTE: Can we talk about chicken broth in Portugal? Why is the only option at the grocery store a small bouillon cube of salt and hydrogenated fat? Make your own! It’s healthier, more soulful, and easy.