Food: Recipe – Minestrone
It starts slowly with a pot of simmering white beans, but minestrone grows into a bowl that feeds the soul
By Louise Crosby
You could say the measure of wealth is not how many cars you have in your driveway, or how many holidays you take each year, but whether you have a batch of home-made soup in your refrigerator at the beginning of the week. Right now I’m thinking of minestrone, that thick, substantial Italian vegetable soup that will keep you going in good health for several days. We should all be so lucky.
Minestrone is something you make when you have plenty of time and want to enjoy the process. It starts out slow and quiet with a pot of simmering white beans. As they are turning soft and creamy, you take a soup pot and start to build your vegetable base, sautéing onions, garlic, carrot and celery in plenty of olive oil and bacon drippings, should you go for bacon, then adding more layers of flavour with zucchini, green beans and potatoes, cabbage, kale, tomatoes and broth. All this goodness simmers for awhile before the cooked beans go in, half of them puréed to give body to the soup. For the grande finale, the soup is served with plenty of Parmesan cheese.
This recipe first appeared in the March 1993 issue of Gourmet magazine, and has stood the test of time. But I urge you to think of it as just a guide, to improvise and make it your own. Leave out the pancetta if you want a vegetarian version. Substitute spinach or chard for the kale. Add orzo. Grate some Gruyère along with the Parmesan, or skip the cheese and add a swirl of basil pesto. Eat it with garlic bread, or toast with cheese melted on top.
Just a few things to note about this recipe. I needed to add at least 2 cups more liquid than what is called for; this could be water or more broth. To keep the green beans from fading to gray from overcooking, I boiled them separately just before serving, for only a couple of minutes. I used lacinato kale, also known as cavolo nero, or black kale, and added it to the soup, thinly sliced, near the end. I like bright green in my soup.
½ pound (about 1¼ cups) dried white beans such as Great Northern, picked over and rinsed
½ teaspoon salt
¼ pound pancetta (Italian cured pork belly), available at Italian markets and specialty food shops) or sliced lean bacon, chopped
⅓ cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 large carrot, cut into ½-inch dice
1 rib of celery, cut into ½-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
2 zucchini, scrubbed and cut into ½-inch dice
¼ pound green beans, trimmed and cut into ½-inch pieces
½ pound boiling potatoes
4 cups shredded green cabbage (preferably Savoy)
½ pound kale, rinsed, drained, stems discarded, and leaves chopped (about 6 cups)
1 28-ounce can tomatoes, drained well and chopped coarse
4½ cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus more for thinning
Freshly grated Parmesan, garlic bruschetta, and dry-cured sausages as accompaniments
In a large bowl let the white beans soak in enough water to cover them by 2 inches overnight, or quick-soak them. Drain the beans. In a saucepan, combine them with enough water to cover them by 2 inches, and simmer them, uncovered, adding more water if necessary to keep them barely covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until they are tender. Add the salt and simmer the white beans for 5 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and let the beans stand, uncovered.
In a heavy kettle, cook the pancetta in the oil over moderate heat, stirring, until it is crisp and pale golden. Add the onion and cook the mixture, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add the zucchini, the green beans, and the potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾-inch dice, and cook the mixture, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add the cabbage and the kale and cook the mixture, stirring, until the cabbage is wilted. Add the tomatoes and the broth and simmer the soup for 1 hour.
Drain the white beans, reserving the liquid. In a blender or food processor, purée half of them with 1 cup of the reserved liquid, and stir the purée and the remaining white beans into the soup. Simmer the soup, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Thin if desired with some of the remaining reserve liquid and season it with salt and pepper. The soup may be made 3 days in advance and kept covered and chilled. Reheat the soup, thinning it with water as desired. Serve the soup with Parmesan, bruschetta, and the sausages.
Makes about 10 cups, serving 6 to 8
THE EX-PRESS, April 22, 2016