That mythic fall comfort food, the steaming bowl of soup brimming with ingredients, comes with its own myths.

Myth number one implies homemade soup is something that simmers for hours on a back burner. Another is that you need a good stock to make a great soup. Luckily, for those of us who live by soup this time of year, neither need be the case.

It is possible to fill the house with that wonderful aroma and not spend all day in the kitchen. How about less than an hour, start to finish? The butternut squash soup that follows, flavored with a little fresh ginger, curry, and quartered apples, takes about twenty-five minutes, or the time it takes for the squash to cook after the onions cook. The lentil soup uses a quicker-cooking, but readily available, French lentil, and can be on the table with a loaf of bread in forty-five minutes. These lentils hold their shape and look better too.

The first place to shave away time is by slicing or dicing the onions right off and getting them into the soup pot with a little oil or butter. While the onions soften and caramelize, you cut the other vegetables. As a bonus, the golden, sweeter sautéed onions add additional flavor. If you haven’t finished cutting the ingredients, you can continue the process by adding the water and bringing it to a boil while you finish your prep work.

When it comes to stocks, it is true that a good, homemade chicken stock can add a deep, rich flavor. But I like to save my stock for when it’s really needed, such as chicken soup or the Italian escarole soup described here. The escarole soup with just onions, garlic, chicken, and escarole is a perfect example
of a comfort soup that uses just a few ingredients and relies on a good stock for its flavor.

But stocks are not a requirement. Spices, such as the ginger and curry in the butternut squash soup, or roasted garlic in the celery-root soup, create their own more interesting flavors. So do a parmesan rind, fresh herbs, dried mushrooms, chiles, miso, and flavorful pork products, such as a spicy sausage, prosciutto, or bacon. Take a look at some Italian soup recipes for good ideas; Italians traditionally use water as their soup base.

My secret flavoring ingredient – and a very simple one – in lieu of stock, is the leek. This is common knowledge among Europeans. Included with an onion, the leek adds complexity, sweetness, and body. You get even more flavor by using the whole leek, not just the white part, minus some very ragged-
appearing green edges. Just rinse well.

Salt is another unsung, but necessary, ingredient, which improves all the flavors in a soup. Many soups call for a teaspoon or so of salt. Try adding a little more than you normally do, a little at a time, and see if even more flavor emerges.

It usually does.

Finally, the soup pot is not the catch-all home for near-expired refrigerator vegetables. Sure, use your long-lasting carrots, celery, and onions, but search out fresh ingredients for great-tasting soup. Fall on the Vineyard is a good time to find those excellent soup ingredients – leeks, onions, fall greens such as kale, root vegetables, and a variety of squashes – at Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown and other farms and farm stands around the Island. So don’t let those soup myths deprive you of the best fall sustenance around.

Curried apple butternut squash soup
Serves 4 to 6

A great fall or winter soup, perfect for a holiday meal.

• 1 tablespoon canola oil, olive oil, or butter
• 1 large onion, diced
• 1 leek, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
• 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon curry powder
• 1 tablespoon ginger, freshly grated
• 3 pounds butternut squash (1 medium-sized), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks (5 to 6 cups)
• 4 cups water
• 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
• 1 potato, peeled and sliced
• 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
• 1/2 cup apple juice

1. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Sauté onion until slightly caramelized, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add leek and cook until soft. Add curry powder and ginger, stirring constantly for about a minute.

2. Add the water, squash, apples, potato, salt, and apple juice. The water or stock should just cover the squash and apples. Bring to a boil. Cover the pot and cook over medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes, until squash is cooked.

3. Purée soup in a blender; thin it with additional apple juice if necessary to reach desired consistency. Season with additional salt.

Chicken escarole soup with orzo
Serves 6

This is like an Italian version of our chicken soup, made with garlic, escarole, and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese for the finish. Escarole is a pleasantly bitter green that looks like a head of leafy lettuce. I don’t know why it makes such a comforting soup, but it does.

• 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 medium head escarole, washed and roughly chopped (about 3/4 pound, or 5 cups)
• 8 cups chicken stock (homemade tastes best)
• 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
• 2 cups cooked chicken, diced (leftovers or rotisserie work fine)
• 1 1/2 cups cooked orzo
• Grated parmesan cheese to taste

1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook about 15 minutes until caramelized. Add garlic and cook another 2 to 3 minutes over low heat.

2. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the escarole and salt. Reduce heat, cover, and cook about 10 minutes, until escarole is tender. Add chicken and cooked orzo to pot and taste for seasoning. Add a little more salt, if needed.

3. Serve hot with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese in each bowl. Don’t leave it out!

Quick French lentil soup
Serves 6

This lentil soup uses the French green lentils, also called du Puy. These are smaller than the brown lentils, cook quicker, and hold their shape for a better appearance. You can experiment by adding different fresh herbs, such as thyme or oregano.

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 onion, diced small
• 1 leek, washed well and thinly sliced
• 2 carrots, 1/4-inch dice
• 1 celery stalk, 1/4-inch dice
• 1 1/4 cups French green lentils, picked through and washed
• 6 cups water
• 1 bay leaf
• 1/4 cup parsley
• 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes or oven-roasted tomatoes
• 1 tablespoon umeboshi vinegar or lemon juice
• Salt and fresh pepper to taste

1. Add oil to a heavy-bottomed soup pot on medium heat. Add onions and cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Add leek and cook until soft.

2. Add carrots, celery, water, bay leaf, half of the parsley, and lentils. Bring to a boil, then simmer until lentils are tender, about 30 to 35 minutes.

3. Remove bay leaf and add tomatoes, umeboshi vinegar or lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Adjust seasonings. Add remaining parsley just before serving.

Purée of celery root soup with roasted garlic
Serves 6 to 8

If you’ve ever wondered what to do with the gnarly, brown celery root, this soup can help you judge its culinary qualities. Cut open and cooked in a soup, the purée of the white inner celery root provides a smooth, creamy, subtle soup, ideal for its task of warming on a cold fall day. Roasted garlic, along with leeks, parsley, and a bay leaf, provide additional flavor.

• 1 head of garlic
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 onion, diced
• 2 leeks, all but very end, washed, sliced
• 2 celery roots, outside pared off, cubed (about 6 cups)
• 8 cups water
• 1 small potato, peeled and sliced
• 2 tablespoons parsley
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 teaspoon salt
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Cream or crème fraîche, to taste

1. To roast garlic, preheat oven to 375. Slice off top of garlic, drizzle on a little olive oil, put the top back. Wrap tightly in tin foil and put in oven until fragrant and cloves are softened, about 45 minutes.

2. While garlic is roasting, melt butter and oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add leeks and continue cooking until they are soft and onions begin to color.

3. Stir in celery root and let cook a few minutes. Add water, potato, parsley, bay leaf, and salt, and bring to a boil. Simmer, partially covered until vegetables are done. Remove the bay leaf.

4. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of its skin. Using a blender, purée soup in batches, adding the roasted garlic to one of the batches being blended. Adjust salt and add pepper. When serving soup, swirl in a little crème fraîche to taste.

Potato kale soup
Serves 6

On the Island, there are plenty of variations for this Portuguese-based soup, also known as caldo verde. This is my version. Often this soup has spicy chorizo sausage or smoked kielbasa along with kidney beans. If you want, you can add cooked sausage and beans for an even heartier soup.

• 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
• 1 large onion, approximately 2 cups, chopped
• 1 leek, use all but tough dark green parts, washed and thinly sliced
• 6 cups water
• 4 medium potatoes, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
• 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
• 3 carrots, peeled
• 2 ribs of celery
• 2 bay leaves
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
• 1/2 pound kale (about 4 cups, chopped)

1. Heat oil and butter in a heavy-bottomed, 7-quart soup pot over medium heat. Sauté onions and leeks about 10 to 15 minutes, until golden, soft, and sweet.

2. Add 6 cups water, potatoes, parsley, whole carrots, whole celery ribs, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked.

3. Cook kale separately while soup is cooking. Wash and strip leaves from stems. Discard stems and chop leaves into bite-sized pieces. Bring 3 to 4 cups of water to a boil in a 10- to 12-inch skillet with a tight-fitting lid. Add kale to boiling water, cover, and cook for about 8 minutes, until tender. Drain and set aside.

4. Remove the carrot and celery pieces and bay leaves from the soup, discard celery and bay leaves, chop carrots, and set aside. Blend a small portion – 1 to 2 cups – of the soup in a blender. Return blended portion back to the pot, stir in kale and carrots, and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot.