Hi, home cooks. You probably already know about making your own vegetable broth or stock, in which case you might think this post has nothing new to tell you. Maybe so. This is less of a post about how to make your own broth and more a post in defense of doing so, weekly, whether you've got soup on the meal plan or even a meal plan in sight.
Here's why: broth is so easy to make and so easy to use. Not making soup? Beans and grains are even better when cooked in broth instead of water. Sauces get a little added flavor when you stir in a third of a cup of broth instead of reaching for the faucet. I've tried making polenta with water and it's got nothing on polenta with that little bit of deep vegetable flavor that comes from stock instead. Once you have broth sitting in your fridge, you'll probably use it, and your meals will be better for it. Or at least, mine are.
This is easy enough to do because broth made from food scraps is essentially free. If you cook at home (which, if you don't, you don't need broth anyway), you likely already end up with vegetable scraps each week. Thyme stems, celery leaves, onion tops, carrot odds and ends, parsley stems, fennel fronds, rosemary bits, shallot skins, kale stems, lettuce cores: these can go in your compost, of course, but better yet if they can get used up in a pot first.
So, if you can make a habit to set those aside in a separate container in the fridge or freezer and then to upend said container into a pot of water each week, you'll have everything you need to make a simple vegetable broth. What should be saved: all herb bits, carrot and celery and onion bits, cruciferous and green bits, tomato cores, leek tops, mushroom stems. I don't add starchy things like potato or squash ends, though you might as well experiment with them if you get curious or are planning a squash risotto. I also don't save really strongly flavored things like radishes because that doesn't sound appealing; your intuition will tell you whether something is good for the soup pot or not.
Vegetable scraps should also be in fairly good condition when they go into the pot: remember, you're eating this. So, clean and scrubbed free of dirt, maybe a little yellow around the edges but not too yellowing, nothing that seems to be already gone bad. Just take your nice clean, fresh scraps, put them in a pot and bring it to a boil, and let simmer for no more than 45 minutes (otherwise it might go slightly bitter). Let it cool and strain it, then pour it into containers for the fridge or freezer. If you're planning to freeze it, take care to do so in straight-sided jars or containers; if the liquid is in a rounded Mason jar and tries to expand past the curved part, the jar will crack.
There are also times when you find yourself with more vegetables than you can use in the allotted time: maybe you're headed on vacation, maybe you have a bumper crop from the garden or a sale at the farmers' market. In that case, you can get more specific and follow a recipe, one that calls for this amount of onions or that amount of celery, to make a well-balanced and chef-approved version. But I bet that if you make broth each week or even each month, you'll slowly learn a recipe of your own: what you like and what you don't.
Broth / stock tips for the rest of us? Meat eaters, want to chime in with your tips for chicken and fish stock?