Taking stock: vegetable

Categories: Expert guidance

Tim Maddams on why we should get back to making traditional stocks and broths from scratch—and his tips and tricks on how to do so. This time: vegetable

Vegetables. By far and away the most vibrant and varied collection of ingredients in almost all kitchens; the most seasonably variable and the ingredients that need the most managing. Fresh is best as they say and the way we look after and store veg in a kitchen is really important, as anyone who has left a lettuce open to the elements of a fierce refrigerator for more than five minutes will have learned to their cost.

Capturing a good, fresh and clean flavour from a simple vegetable stock is a skill that once learned, will stand you in good stead—not only to make the most of any veg left lingering in the fridge drawer, but as a great way to add punch, depth and complexity to dishes without resorting to dairy or salt. It is also a great way to celebrate seasonal changes in the kitchen. Making a fresh new season asparagus risotto? Use the tough asparagus stalks to flavour the stock and you will have a far superior risotto. Braising some wild mushrooms? Add the well-washed trimmings and even a few dried mushrooms to the stock and you will be cooking at another level altogether.

But we must learn to walk before we jog—and the examples below will help do just that, by offering you a helping hand as you launch the kayak of hope from the shale beach of inexperience. It will help us as well to consider the broader view and have a basic understanding of exactly what stock is before we set off on this voyage.

As alluded to in my first post, which lays out the cornerstones of making good stock, veg stocks are very fast to cook. A traditional fresh, light veg stock is called a ‘nagé’ and often contains vermouth or anise. This is mostly used for dressing vegetable dishes in a re-heating scenario, or indeed for cooking things like fish, when it is then called a ‘court bullion’ and tends to contain more wine and aromatics.

But I have no truck with all that—this is how I make a light veg stock, and I have supplied a variation for making a darker, richer version as well. These will upset some traditional cooks, but they are my honed and personally preferred ways of doing things. You may well wish to develop your own after giving these ago—and that is cookery at its very heart.

Light veg stock
The process for making this stock is very short and sweet. If you are lucky enough to have a grating attachment for your food mixer then this will save you time. If not, then I am afraid it’s time to roll up those sleeves.

Wash 4 large carrots well—you can leave the skin on, but no grit please. If you are lucky enough to get fresh carrots with the tops on, then a little of the carrot tops can be added to the stock as it cools—the rest will make a fine pesto. Peel 2 large onions and 4 garlic cloves. Cut a medium-sized leek lengthways and wash it very well. This will need to be chopped up finely by hand.

Grate the carrots, onions, garlic and 2 sticks of celery. Warm a large casserole type pan on the stove or a big saucepan if you do not have one—not too hot, I want this to start very gently. Add 1 tbsp good olive oil to the pan and then add 10 just-cracked black peppercorns, 1 sprig of fresh thyme and 2 fresh bay leaves and allow the aromas of these things to come alive. Cook slowly like this for 10 mins, then add all the vegetables and cook for 1 min.

Now, turn the heat right up and add 1½ litres water and 1 level tsp sea salt. Bring rapidly to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for just 2 mins. Turn off the heat and allow the stock to steep for a while before passing through a fine sieve into a clean bowl, ready for use. The remaining veg pulp can be blended and used for a side dish or added to a ragu along with some chilli, for a simple vegetable dish—it will need a lot of seasoning and herbs, though, as most of the flavour is now in your stock.

Dark veg stock
A dark stock can be made as above but wash your onions before peeling them and retain the skins. Use a light oil and get the pan hot before adding the grated and chopped veg (along with the onion leaves) and cook fiercely for a few mins, stirring only occasionally so some of the vegetable matter starts to brown a little. Add 2 tsp tomato puree and cook for 2 mins before adding the herbs and the water. Cook for a little longer before straining and you should have a darker, slightly richer and earthier version of the light veg stock.

—I will often drink a cup of the fresh, light veg stock as it sits in its bowl cooling down and it tastes and feels great. I love to use this base to add to a noodle dish or for a seasonal risotto, but it can find a home in many dishes, soups and sauces—try cooking some fresh greens in a ladle of this stock, with a dash more olive oil, in a pan with a lid. Best of all, though, warm a pan of this, add a few leaves of wild garlic and maybe some fresh spring greens, then pop a couple of eggs in and poach them lightly in the liquor. Season well and enjoy—a super fresh, light and delicious dish.

—Making a bechamel-type sauce with this light veg stock in place of milk makes things a little lighter and more interesting. This sauce can then be used in many, many ways, just like its more dairy-heavy inspiration. I also often use this stock to make wet polenta to serve as a side dish or even as the main event, as it is here in this lovely recipe by Jenny Chandler.

—The darker version, meanwhile, works very well in pulse dishes, like a chilli or a ribollita. I also like to use it with mushrooms—a sort of brothy hot pot can be made by cooking large flat mushrooms with thyme, garlic and olive oil in the oven. These can then be sliced and the hot stock poured over the top. I often add wilted greens as well and some toasted hazelnuts, lightly crushed.

—This is also a very good base for a meat-free gravy: reduce some dark beer or red wine and add some of this stock and reduce further. Season and add a little butter and egg yolk to help it thicken (being careful not to boil it once these are added at the end!) Tom Hunt’s risotto recipe can be made completely vegetarian by simply using this stock instead of the meat stock.