First, make a simple vegetable stock.
Chop up a raw onion. If you are like me you have some leftover onion bits in the fridge from that time you made shish kabobs and only used the outer slices of the onions. Yellow or brown or red onions are all fine, white onions are usually overpriced.
Put the pot over low-to-medium heat and add the butter. You want to sweat the onions, not grill them. Toss in the onions, add a pinch or two of kosher salt (in a little clay pot right next to the stove). The onions should sizzle a little, but not too loud, otherwise you are carmelizing them which is not the same thing as sweating.
If you can multitask, pare and dice 1-2 carrots and 1-2 celery stalks. If you can't multitask, you should do this before you start to sweat the onions.
Stir the onions occasionally. They should start to turn translucent, 5 to 8 minutes. Toss in the diced carrot and celery. Maybe add some more butter or more salt. Let this sweat 3 or 4 minutes.
Add 6 cups of cold water to the pot and turn up the heat a smidge. Let this simmer for at least 15 minutes. This is your vegetable stock. [You can do this in advance. Let it simmer for an hour, strain out the veggies and put the liquid in the fridge or freezer.]
You now have a bit of time to rummage for the rest of the soup. Chop up your bratwursts (or Italian sausage, or beef franks, or whatever) into soup-sized morsels. How much? Maybe 2 wursts is enough for this quantity of soup, which should feed 4-8. I also had some grilled bell peppers (yellow) and grilled onions. Dice it all up. Dice up the tomatoes. I added some grilled turnips as well.
Once the stock has simmered about 15 minutes, the liquid will start to take on the flavor of the vegetables you started with. Taste it and see. Add the rest of your prepared ingredients. Add some seasonings, salt and pepper, maybe a teaspoon of dried thyme, a tablespoon of dried basil.
If you are using flattened barley or white rice, it will need to cook for about 15 minutes. Pearl barley or brown rice will take 30 minutes to cook. Presumably if you have cooked with these ingredients before you have some idea how long they take to cook. Don't worry about overcooking anything, the flavors will go into the broth.
That's it. Serve as a main course (4 servings) with crackers or cheese toasts, or as a side (8 servings).
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