Regular readers of my blog will know I’m a stock snob – I never use stock cubes. I’m always amazed when famous TV chefs tell you it’s OK when they really should know better. To compare a stock cube to real homemade stock is like comparing a good coffee made from freshly ground coffee beans to an instant coffee. You can like stock cubes if you like, and you can like instant coffee, but please don’t call them real.
Having had my rant, I’ll get back to why I decided to make some vegetable stock tonight. There is a connection! I’ve run out of real homemade chicken stock which I keep iced in cubes in my freezer (for as instant a hit of stock as any cube), and haven’t managed to get to the farmers’ market recently to buy a good organic chicken. And while making soup or risotto – as I’ve done in recent days – works perfectly fine with water, it doesn’t quite have the depth of using stock. Also, I do eat quite a lot of vegetable-only meals – pasta with vegetable sauces, vegetable risottos, vegetable curries – and so I decided that having some vegetable stock to hand would be a great idea. I had all the ingredients in my fridge and, unlike a chicken stock, a vegetable stock can be ready in half an hour. I wasn’t planning to use it tonight, however, but want to freeze it – for convenience is cubes, as it then melts quickly when I want some and also I can use as much or little as I need.
I had an idea of what I should put in to the stock but it’s so long since I’ve made a vegetable stock I can’t be sure I ever have! I checked some books and then pretty much used Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s recipe from his Veg book. I also liked his idea – not standard – of gently frying the veg in some oil before pouring the water in. He says it helps mellow the onion, but I also felt it would add to the flavour, like a soffritto, which is the base of many Italian recipes. He grates his veg but I wasn’t so sure about that and decided to finely chop mine. I chopped 2 large carrots, 1 large onion, 2 sticks celery and 1 large clove garlic and also added the stems of a small bunch of parsley, a few black peppercorns and a heaped teaspoon of sea salt.
I poured some extra virgin olive oil into the bottom of a large cast-iron pan.
I heated the oil and then tipped in the finely chopped vegetables.
I gave it all a good stir and cooked gently – you only want to soften them a bit, not brown them – for about 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Then I poured in 1 litre of boiling water.
I mixed well, brought back to the boil, and then turned down to a moderate simmer – so you could see a few bubbles popping but nothing too energetic. I left it simmering for 30 minutes with the lid off. I checked seasoning (and it tasted pretty good but needed just a little more salt) then I drained it all through a large sieve into a jug.
I was left with 750ml of stock. Hugh had made twice as much; maybe that was a good plan! But I wasn’t sure how much I’d want to use over the next month or so. Having tasted it – and it’s very delicious! – I can see that next time I’ll follow Hugh’s example and double up the quantities. It has a nice depth of flavour. It will really enhance vegetable dishes, especially vegetable risottos. I’ve left it to cool. Later, I’ll put it into the fridge and when it’s cold, I’ll freeze it in an ice cube tray. I use a tray with quite large cubes – each cube takes 2 tablespoons (30ml) of stock. Then next time I need stock – or especially vegetable stock – I can take out a few cubes, however much I need, warm them through in a small saucepan and fairly instantly I’ll have a delicious stock to hand!