Today was cold, cloudy and rainy – a perfect soup day and for me few are better than this hearty favourite. The basic recipe is so simple, yet so good, and you can also add in any other veggies you like or have on hand. While I find it easy and economical to use a small quantity of beef shank, which is readily available to me from the Fresh Produce store on Carling Avenue, you could also substitute leftover steak or roast beef. I like the shank though, because of the bone, which I think gives extra flavour.
The following ingredients are more of a guideline – it’s hard to go wrong with soup – so try the basic recipe first, then add or modify as you like to make it your own!
1 box Campbell’s beef broth – 900 ml / 30 oz
1 large tin diced tomatoes – 798 ml / 28 oz (unsalted, if possible)
1 thick slice of beef shank (roughly one pound, including the bone)
1 medium-to-large onion (approximately 2 cups, chopped)
1/3 cup barley (I like the pot variety better than the pearl type)
pepper & salt to taste
Herbe de Provence, to taste (3 good big pinches for me)
1 Bay leaf
2 medium carrots, large-diced
1 ½ cups chopped mushrooms (approximately – I used a large Portobello), sautéed in oil and butter
1 cup green beans, cut or snapped into in one-inch lengths
Put the broth and tomatoes in a large soup pot, cover with a lid, bring it to the boiling point over medium high heat and then reduce heat to a simmer.
Meanwhile, chop the onions, as well as any other vegetable you are using.
If using carrots, add them to the pot.
In a skillet, over medium high heat, brown the beef shank well and transfer, whole, to the pot. Reduce heat under the skillet to medium low, adding oil if necessary, and sauté the onions until softened. Transfer onions to the pot.
If using mushrooms, sauté at high heat, with oil and butter – yes, butter, it was made for mushrooms! – until browned and transfer them to the pot.
Add spices and barley, stir, then simmer, covered, for 45 minutes.
Use tongs or a fork to remove the beef shank from the pot, place it on a cutting board and separate the meat from the bone. Slice the meat, removing any tough cartilage bits, and return the meat to the pot. You can discard the bone at this point or return it to the pot – your choice.
If using green beans, add them to the pot and continue to simmer your soup until the beans are cooked to your liking – for me, that’s about another 20 minutes.
That’s it! Unless, that is, you want to do the one last thing I often do to this soup, which is to stir in a splash or two of red wine. I don’t always do this but, when I do, I like to add it at the end – I think the flavour is better when it’s added just before serving.
Just a note on barley: if you’ve never used it before you need to know that it expands considerably and also thickens the soup. One third of a cup won’t look like enough but it will be when cooked. You could add a bit more – up to a half-cup in total. But any more than that might make for a glutinous mess!