Though a lot of dishes can be made perfectly well with stock made from stock cubes, nothing beats the flavour and nutritional value of a home cooked vegetable broth.
That said, I’ll start with the confession it took me years before I truly felt this way. In my heart I just knew that broth made from simmered fresh veg and herbs must be more flavourful and healthy than its instant sibling. Yet the different versions I tried using the freshest raw vegetables would yield a liquid that would smell wonderful and aromatic, but, despite its beautiful base, turned out to be surprisingly insipid every time. I’d have to add tons of salt to bring out the hidden flavours, which would take away all the fun and the illusion I was making something healthy.
But these days, I’m happy to say I’ve found the remedy. The key to making full-flavoured fresh vegetable broth is two things. I’m not the first to have come up with them and maybe you have already known them for ages, but since the discovery of them have made my life a whole lot easier, I’ll share them with those of you who are still struggling.
The first is not to simmer raw veg, but use veg that have been roasted or pan-seared in oil to the point of caramelisation. Doing so adds loads of that lovely vegetable flavour to the broth. The second one deals with the issue of salt. Adding pan-fried fresh mushrooms and a few dried porcini to the simmering liquid gives the whole thing not a salty, but a deep umami flavour, which is so satisfying that you may not even want to add a pinch of salt to the resulting broth.
Below you’ll find the recipe to make 1 litre of fresh mushroom, herb and vegetable broth. When you are already taking the effort of doing so, you may want to double the quantities and store some for later use. The broth keeps well in either fridge or freezer. To save storage room (which is usually the limiting issue in my case), you could reduce the volume of the stock by cooking it down to half, storing it in its concentrated form and then replenishing the evaporated amount of water before using. You can store the broth in the fridge for up to a few days, or in the freezer for up to several months; just keep in mind the flavours will deteriorate if you freeze it for too long.
This mushroom and vegetable broth makes the perfect base for risotto, soup, stews or sauces. Do feel free to resolve to stock cubes whenever convenient. But if you want to make something truly special, like, say, my mushroom and tarragon risotto, use this fresh broth. Trust me, it will be worth your while.
Homemade mushroom, herb and vegetable broth – makes about 1 litre
- 6 tbsp. olive oil
- 250 g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
- 2 large carrots, unpeeled and cut into chunks
- 3 celery stalks, including leaves, cut into large pieces
- 2 large onions, peeled and roughly chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
- 8 black pepper corns
- 3 bay leaves
- 6 thyme sprigs
- 5 g dried porcini
Below you’ll find the preparation mode using pan-fried vegetables. Instead of frying them, you can also let the flavours develop by roasting the veg in the oven before simmering them with the herbs and dried mushrooms. To do so, mix the vegetables with the stated amount of oil and divide them over two baking sheets. Roast the veg for 45 minutes at 230°C/450°F/Gas 8, until caramelized. Halfway during the roasting time, let the baking sheets switch places and stir the veggies a few times to make sure they don’t burn. This way of preparing takes more time, but less active cooking time than the pan-frying method. It’s up to you which way you prefer.
Heat half of the oil in a large pan. Over a high heat, fry the mushrooms for 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until they’re halved in size and browned all over. Take them out of the pan and set aside.
Heat an extra spoonful of olive oil. Over a high heat, fry the carrot pieces until nicely browned, then take out of the pan.
In another spoonful of oil, stir-fry the celery pieces until browned, then take out and lower the heat.
Add the last spoonful of oil. Cook the onion and garlic until softened and fragrant.
Return the cooked vegetables to the pan. Add the pepper corns, bay leaves, thyme sprigs and dried porcini, along with a litre of water. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and leave to simmer gently for 1-1½ hours.
Put a sieve over a large bowl and pour in the contents of the pan. Strain the broth; use a wooden spoon to press as much liquid out of the vegetables as possible. Discard the veg.
Use the vegetable broth immediately to make soup, risotto, stews or sauces, or leave to cool uncovered. When completely cooled, it keeps well in the fridge for several days, or up to six months in the freezer.