If you are a frugal cook, vegetable stock is for you. It is a good way to wring flavor and nutrition out of practically every scrap of vegetable in your kitchen.
The main caveat that seems to come up whenever I read about vegetable stock is the brassica ban. In general, you do not want to include strong, cabbage flavored items in stock - such as broccoli, caulflower, brussels sprouts, turnips or strong flavored greens. I think a little bit of cabbage core or a few kohlrabi peelings or a bit of tough rutabaga bottom can't hurt, but you be the judge. The point is that you want balance in a vegetable stock. If one or two vegetables are too overpowering you will probably not be happy with the result. If you are going to use the stock as a base for a beet borscht, you would make different choices than you would if the stock is for a more delicate potato leek soup, for example. Until you get experience, you might want to stick to more conventional choices like onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms, potato peels or leeks.
I have read about French housewives who always keep a stockpot bubbling on the back of their stove. If you are in that camp, then you can just add various peelings, ends or less than beautiful vegetables as they come your way. If you are not, then you will need other strategies. I just keep a plastic bag in my vegetable crisper and add items as I have them. Or sometimes I will decide to clean out the drawer and make spontaneous stock. If you cook a lot with vegetables, you will soon develop your own strategy for saving ingredients for stock.
This morning I decided to make a potato-leek-butternut squash gratin for dinner. So now I have a stock simmering which contains:
2 cups peelings from a butternut squash
2 cups sliced leek tops (pale green - but dark green work too)
1 cup sliced carrot
1 cup chopped tomato (the last tired tomatoes from the garden that were picked green and kind of turned red)
1 cup potato peelings
1 large handful fresh parsley
1 large handful chopped fresh lovage (this is a great fresh herb to have around. It has a pronounced celery taste which works well in vegetable stock.)
1/3 cup sliced dried shitake mushrooms (fresh or dried mushrooms are a lovely addition to vegetable stock. This is a great use for mushroom stems or mushrooms that are a little past their prime but still not slimy)
1 t. black peppercorns
1 t. salt
8 cups water
|The potato peelings are hiding under the lovage|
Note - I made sure all vegetables were well scrubbed before I peeled or chopped them. The carrots were just scrubbed - not necessary to peel. If you have an old hard Parmesan rind around - that is a good item to add to a vegetable stock.
Once the vegetables and herbs are all added to the water, bring it to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. This is a great project for a Saturday morning or other time when you will be around the house for awhile. Bubbling stock smells so good. A lot better than potpourri or candles in my book. Simmer the stock gently about 2 hours. Strain and cool. Will keep in the refrigerator about a week and for months if frozen.