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Make vegetable stock in a jiffy

(ran NP ST TP editions)

Tucked into the corner of my mom's freezer is a half-gallon plastic container filled with frozen vegetable stock _ homemade, of course.

Whenever she steams or boils vegetables, she saves the leftover water that most of us throw down the drain. Each night she adds a little more to her stash. Little by little, she saves enough to use as a base for a huge pot of soup, my dad's favorite treat.

I've never been as organized as my mom, and I'm from the generation that thinks it's easier to open a box or can, so for years I used vegetable bouillon cubes instead of storing my own stock, but the flavor and odor of the cubes was so strong that everything I made with the cubes tasted exactly like the cubes.

There wasn't much in the way of store-bought alternatives until Swanson began offering a canned vegetable broth. It's pretty good but doesn't touch homemade, and making your own stock is really quicker than a trip to the store.

It can be done usually with whatever vegetables you need to clean out of your hydrator. It's just a matter of peeling and dicing a few vegetables, throwing in herbs and covering them with water.

Stock is made simply by simmering vegetables in water. In less than an hour they are soft, and their unique flavors and nutrients have been released into the liquid. Then the stock is strained.

Carrots, green beans, celery, peeled onions, zucchini, potatoes, parsnips, sweet potatoes and squash are the most commonly used vegetables for a basic stock. Apples and pears can also be used to add sweetness. Dried mushrooms add an earthy flavor.

Stay away from cabbage family vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower. Their strong flavors can overwhelm a stock. Also green peppers and eggplant can make stock bitter. Beets will turn everything red.

Garlic and herbs, especially parsley, bay leaves and thyme can add sweetness and depth of flavor. Play around a bit and see what tastes good to you. Get to know your ingredients. Each vegetable and herb you choose has its special flavor. A stock can be adapted to reflect the dish it will be used in. For instance, you might want to add ginger or scallions if you are preparing an Asian dish that calls for stock.

Stock is usually used as a base for soups, pasta sauces, ragouts or risottos, but I also use it to saute onions and garlic or any type of vegetable instead of high-fat oils and butter. When I make a batch of stock, I freeze a small amount in an ice cube tray and take out a couple of cubes for sauteing as I need them.

This is the basic stock used by the folks at the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, N.Y. For 22 years they've been serving delicious soups at their now famous vegetarian restaurant. The cooperative has written many excellent cookbooks.

Vegetable Stock

2 large unpeeled potatoes, quartered

2 large carrots, peeled and thickly sliced

1 large onion, peeled and quartered

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 apple or pear, seeded and chopped

1 bay leaf

12 peppercorns

10 cups water (2 { quarts)

Put all of the ingredients into a large pot of cold water, bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes to an hour. Strain. Makes 2 quarts of stock,

Wild Mushroom Stock

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

1{ tablespoons olive oil

4 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced (optional)

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

2 celery stalks, diced

1 medium onion, chopped

{ cup leek greens chopped into 1 inch pieces (optional)

\ teaspoon dried thyme

2 bay leaves

6 branches parsley, chopped

l large pinch dried sage

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

9 cups cold water

Cover the dried mushrooms with 1 cup hot water and set them aside. Heat the olive oil in a soup pot, add the vegetables, herbs, garlic and salt and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add the dried mushrooms and their soaking liquid plus the 9 cups cold water and bring to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes. Strain the stock through a fine-meshed sieve.

Source: The Greens Cookbook (Bantam, $26.95).

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