It’s amazing what a good, quick soup you can make from stuff you might otherwise throw out, as I was reminded last night. You don’t need meat. You don’t need bouillon cubes or anything fake like that. All you need is an assortment of food and a pot. And it only takes about a half hour.

Maria RodaleStart with a big pot and put some olive oil in it. Then add something oniony. (I used dried-up old leeks. Always cut away all the bad parts of whatever you use!) Then cut up and add some carrots and celery. These three things are the basis of any vegetable soup.

Next, clean out the fridge or the pantry. Any vegetable, root, or leafy thing that’s on the verge can go in (again, not the rotten parts, but what’s left of the good parts). Last night I had a turnip, a celeriac root, and some little tomatoes and parsley. You can even put in frozen vegetables. Turn on the burner to medium high and let the stuff start cooking.

Meanwhile, boil some water for pasta. I used up three different types of whole wheat pasta from packages that were already open. No reason you can’t mix. But definitely always cook the pasta separately from the soup, otherwise the broth will taste starchy and you may get the pasta/soup ratio wrong. When the pasta’s cooked, strain it and add to the soup. If you end up with any leftover cooked pasta, make something else with it later.

Add a can of beans to the vegetable pot. Or, if you are ambitious, soak some dry beans the night before. Really, any kind of bean will do.

Then add some liquid to make the soup. Water is good. A little bit of tomato sauce is good, too; tomatoes make it Italian.

Add salt. Salt makes the difference between tasteless soup and tasty soup.

Shake in some spices. I put in basil and fennel. But experiment!

Cut up some garlic and drop it in.

When the soup smells good and tastes even better (usually it takes about a half an hour), it’s ready. Serve the soup with some grated Romano cheese and fresh ground pepper, if you feel like it. What’s great about this soup is that it’s healthy, and your refrigerator gets cleaned out while making it.

This article was reprinted with permission. For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.