Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Family Minestrone

With many people still buried in winter weather, it’s fitting to get just one last soup recipe in before, hopefully, the weather turns around and warms up - just in time for the start of Spring! 

As you know, I love soup, and this is one of my favorites. I can hardly believe I haven’t posted it yet!

Image result for minestroneMinestrone is a thick soup of Italian origin made with vegetables, often with the addition of rice or pasta. It wasn’t until much later when tomatoes and potatoes were brought to Europe from the Americas that those ingredients were added and became staple ingredients in the soup. However, common ingredients such as beans, onions, celery, and carrots have always been part of Minestrone. The soup can be vegetarian, contain meat, or contain a meat-based broth (such as chicken stock).

It’s a soup with a thousand versions. Perhaps it’s like anything else, depending on where you go, regional influences determine what goes into it. And often what goes into minestrone is as simple as what’s on hand or in season. There are winter minestrones and summer minestrones. 

For those dishes for which there is no one set recipe, we tend to like that to which we are accustomed, and for me that would be the Minestrone of my mother. I’d have to ask her where she got her recipe, but I know I wrote her version down on a little 3x5 card back in my 20’s as she dictated it to me in her kitchen one day, and I’ve still got it!  Who even uses 3x5 recipe cards anymore?

Despite the fact that I love the recipe just the way it is, sometimes I add chopped greens to the soup, like chard or kale, if I have some and it needs to be used up.  No matter which version you use, one thing we can all agree on is this: minestrone is often better the day after you make it. This is so simple to make and tastes so wonderful.

Here’s my family's version of Minestrone:

1/2 cup olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced (really, add as many as you can handle)
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
4 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 can organic tomato paste
approximately 10 cups broth (vegetable, chicken or beef) or water or a combination thereof
Image result for minestrone1 cup chopped cabbage
2 carrots, sliced
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/8 tsp. ground sage
1 can kidney beans
1 zucchini, chopped
1 cup green beans (frozen will work)
1 cup elbow macaroni
Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a large pot. Add garlic, onion, celery, parsley. Cook until soft. Stir in the tomato paste and the next 6 ingredients. Mix well. Bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover, simmer one hour. Add remaining ingredients except for the cheese. Cook 10-15 minutes more until macaroni is tender. 

Sprinkle Parmesan over the top. 

Serve along with the soup a nice slice of toasted Italian bread like chiabatta or focaccia, something you can dip into some olive oil. Or maybe some Parmesan crisps. For wine, I would recommend Chianti or a lighter Zinfandel - nothing too heavy. Maybe start dinner off with a simple salad of mixed greens tossed in a light vinaigrette and you’ve got yourself a wonderfully hearty, veggie-rich dinner.

If you should feel adventurous, other ingredients to consider adding or substituting:
potatoes (maybe instead of the pasta, but add them earlier on so they cook all the way)
1 can tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 tsp fresh chopped oregano or thyme, or a little of both
1 bay leaf
fava beans
fresh peas
Tuscan kale, chopped
summer squash

Tips: the longer something takes to cook, the longer you’ll want it in the pot cooking. For instance, if the pancetta gives off some fat, I’d use that in lieu of the olive oil at the start. Leeks and potatoes should go in early; beans, peas and squash later towards the end.

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