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
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here