Friday, December 30, 2011

Summa soup

This article was originally published to in November 2001. Carefully selected, leftovers become the perfect starting place for an impromptu soup in camp. It's a skill that I use at work some 35 years later.

Summa this. Summa that. That's what Navy cooks called the supper soup.

Each afternoon, the ship's cook added all of the noonday leftovers to the soup pot. Since the supper menu only identified the soup as "Soup Du Jour," the cooks hand a free hand at creating any soup for the evening meal. Summa soup, as the cooks called it, gave an outlet for breakfast and dinner leftovers, and it tested their culinary skills.

Leftover meals pose a problem for camp cooks as well. They eat up precious space in the ice chest, and they can quickly spoil if handled improperly. So, it's best to use them quickly. Summa soup is the answer this dilemma. Like Navy cooks, camp cooks can use leftover beans, spaghetti or stroganoff, for instance, as the foundation for flavor-packed soups.

A camp cooking adventure

Summa soup is the ultimate culinary adventure -- at least in the realm of leftovers. You never know how the soup's going to taste. Today, the soup's ingredients meld wonderfully. Tomorrow, they fall short. But despite expectations, summa soup's always good.

It's as easy as blending all the leftovers that you want into a large stockpot. All you need a leftover dish and a few other ingredients. Sometimes, leftovers are sufficient to build a summa soup. Other times, you'll need to add a few fresh ingredients to build your summa soup. Here are a few ideas:

  • Leftover beans are a good place to begin. Make vegetable bean soup by adding steamed vegetables (who doesn't have steamed broccoli or green beans lurking in the ice chest), chicken stock and bacon or sausage. Sprinkle salt and pepper, add fresh thyme and the soup is ready. It makes a quick lunch.
  • Leftover spaghetti easily becomes minestrone. Add chicken stock, julienned green peppers, shredded green cabbage and chickpeas. Season with salt and pepper and top each serving with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. The spaghetti sauce gives the soup its foundation while the pasta and vegetables add substance and a little starch for body. The stock brings it all together like an orchestra conductor.
  • Leftover stroganoff transforms into a beef mushroom soup. It's as simple as adding beef stock and cream. You can use milk if cream is too rich. Just remember to thicken the soup with flour or cornstarch. Stroganoff transforms into beef mushroom soup with a hint of tanginess.
  • With a little imagination, you'll have wonderful soup to accompany sandwiches on a drizzly day in camp. But remember summa soup is risky business. You may never create the same soup twice. Each meal is an adventure.

    Sharpen your soup-making skills

    Start with any foundation desired. Expect its flavor to dominate your soup like the beef and mushrooms of the stroganoff. What you start with doesn't matter. Chili becomes Mexican spiced soup with rice and beans. Leftover roast serves as the foundation for quick vegetable beef soup.

    Just add to the flavors that your ice chest presents to you. Have chicken, beef or vegetable stock handy to add volume and the essence of meats or vegetables to your foundation. Fresh herbs like parsley, basil, thyme or cilantro enhance a lackluster dish. Soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce or hot pepper sauce send the soup on tangents -- Asian, American or Southwestern.

    Even if your ice chest is lacking leftover steamed rice for a chicken vegetable, try leftover pasta or beans. Any complimentary ingredient is fair game. Start with traditional accompaniments and expand.

    When you cook you summa soup, simmer. Don't boil. If you do, you run the risk of cooking everything into a pulp. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce the heat on your camp stove as low as it'll go. By simmering, the meat, vegetables, pasta and starches will heat slowly so they retain they're shape and texture.

    Food safety with leftovers

    Remember to heat leftovers to 165 degrees. This is necessary to kill any wayward bacteria that may be lurking in your leftovers. If you don't have a thermometer to test the temperature, let the pot simmer (when bubbles are barely breaking the surface) for about 15 minutes. Since a simmer is about 190 degrees at sea level, this will ensure your safety.

    Avoid using leftovers that have been hiding in your ice chest for more than three days. And throw out any that are questionable. If leftovers have a sour or putrid odor, toss them. Also avoid any that look funny, are discolored or have mold growing on the surface.

    Is your appetite still there? Open the ice chest and see what lays hidden on the bottom. It just may be the beginning of your next culinary adventure.

    Guidelines for handling leftovers in camp are found in my article "Handling Leftovers in Camp or Spaghetti that's Better Leftover." The leftover spaghetti's a good place to start.

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