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The night after fall's first rain, I asked my grandson Lucas, who is 12, what he might want for dinner.

He sat for a bit contemplating the possibilities and then told me he felt like soup, maybe fish soup, he added, and suggested clam chowder.

When I told him I didn't have the ingredients for clam chowder, he said one of my potato soups with greens would be fine.

In that moment, I felt so lucky. I don't know a lot of kids of any age who would actually request a soup full of chard, kale, beet greens, radish greens or whatever other leafy vegetables there might be in the fridge. But it's a favorite of his.

When I told him it would take 45 minutes to make the soup, he said fine, even though he was really hungry.

"It's worth waiting for," he added.

In less than an hour, he was tucking into a big bowl of potato, Lacinato kale, arugula and parsley soup, pureed and topped with a generous dollop of Straus whole-milk yogurt. As I fixed sauteed-flounder tacos for him, he asked for a second helping of the soup.

It is fun to feed this kid. He has all the qualities of any boy his age, including a passion for too much ketchup and a gut reaction that labels unfamiliar things yucky. But he responds when I remind him that I rarely fix anything he doesn't like and he is always willing to try new things.

At this time of year, a lot of those new things are soups. We love our old favorites, of course, but there is such an abundance of produce right now that it is both wise and easy to be flexible, to take advantage of whatever is at hand.

One of the best ways to take advantage of fall's harvest is to use a recipe for vegetable soup as a template. With simple adjustments in spices, herbs and toppings, you can give it a Proven?l, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Mexican or Middle Eastern flair or whisk it off to Southeast Asia by adding noodles and fish sauce.

As I've written in this column many times, the finest gift you can give a soup is good homemade stock. It is easy to do and you'll be so grateful if you get into the habit of keeping stocks in your freezer, especially in the cooler months. For stock recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit Eat This Now at <a href="http://pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com" target="_blank">pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com</a>.


This basic recipe is followed by a number of variations. Feel free to be flexible, using whatever vegetables you have. Just be sure to add vegetables in stages so that each one is perfectly cooked and neither underdone nor overcooked.

<strong>Fall Vegetable Soup, with Variations</strong>

<em> Makes 6 to 8 servings</em>

4 tablespoons olive oil or clarified butter

1 large yellow onion, cut into small dice

1 carrot, peeled and cut into small dice

6 to 8 garlic cloves, minced

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

6 cups homemade vegetable or chicken stock

1 bay leaf

2 Italian parsley sprigs

2 thyme sprigs

1 small dried hot chile

1 1/2 pounds fresh shell beans (shelled)

3 cups fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, diced and drained

4 ounces small green beans, trimmed and cut in 1-inch pieces

8 ounces zucchini, cut into thin half moons

4 cups trimmed and sliced greens, such as chard, kale, spinach, beet greens or turnip greens

Heat the olive oil or butter in a large soup pot set over medium heat, add the onion and carrot and saute over very low heat until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Season with about a teaspoon of kosher salt and several turns of black pepper.

Pour in the stock. Use kitchen twine to tie together the bay leaf, the parsley and the thyme and add to the pot, along with the dried chile.

Increase the heat to high, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to very low and simmer very gently for 15 minutes. Add the shell beans and the tomatoes and cook until the beans are tender, from 15 to 35 minutes, depending on the age of the beans.

Add the green beans and zucchini, simmer gently for about 4 minutes and taste the green beans for doneness. Stir in the sliced greens and simmer gently until tender.

Taste the soup, correct for salt and pepper and remove from the heat. Use tongs to remove the herbs.

Ladle into soup plates and serve as is or use in one of the variations below.


<strong>Spanish Style:</strong> Add 2 teaspoons hot Spanish paprika and 2 teaspoons sweet Spanish paprika to the onions and carrots. Fry about 10 ounces of Spanish-style chorizo until nearly done, cut into half-rounds and add to the soup with the green beans and zucchini. If you like, top each portion with spoonful of homemade Romesco and serve fried Padron chiles alongside.

<strong>Proven?l Style:</strong> Add a large lamb shank to the soup with the stock and simmer for 1 1/2 hours before adding the shell beans and other ingredients. Add 4 ounces small dried pasta (such as farfalline) to the soup with the green beans and cook until the pasta is tender. Pull the meat off the bone and stir it into the soup before serving and top each portion with a very generous dollop of pesto.

<strong>Italian style:</strong> Add 6 ounces small pasta, such as small shells, ditalini or orzo with the green beans and cook until the pasta is tender. To serve, ladle into soup plates and top with a very generous amount of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, dry Jack or similar cheese and a generous splash of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with crusty hearth bread alongside.

<strong>Greek Style:</strong> Add 3 teaspoons dried oregano to the sauteed onions and carrots. Ladle into soup plates and top each portion with a generous squeeze of lemon and 2 or 3 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese. Serve with hot pita bread alongside.

<strong>Middle Eastern Style:</strong> Use clarified butter, not olive oil, and add 1 minced serrano pepper, 1/2 teaspoon caraway seed, 1/2 teaspoon coriander seed, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 2 teaspoons sweet paprika and 2 teaspoons dried oregano to the onions and carrots. Replace the shell beans with 3 cups cooked (canned is fine) chickpeas. Roast, seed, peel and julienne 3 or 4 poblano peppers and stir them into the soup with the green beans, zucchini and 1/2 cup Israeli couscous or acini di pepe pasta. To serve, ladle into soup plates and top with a generous spoonful of harissa (see Eat This Now at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com for my recipe) or with chopped cilantro and a generous squeeze of lime juice. Serve with hot lavash and thick, whole-milk yogurt alongside.

<strong>Mexican Style:</strong> While the soup cooks, saute 6 ounces fideos (short, thin pasta, available in Latin markets) in a dry skillet, stirring all the while, until it is golden brown. Add it to the soup with the green beans and zucchini. Ladle into soup plates, top each portion with plenty of chopped cilantro, diced avocado and crumbled Cotija cheese and serve with hot corn tortillas and Mexican hot sauce or salsa alongside.

<em>Michele Anna Jordan hosts "Mouthful" each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com. You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.</em>

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