Put January’s chill at bay and make good on your New Year’s resolution to eat more veggies with some hearty minestrone. Minestrone is an Italian soup typically made in winter with whatever vegetables are on hand, though it’s generally agreed that a true minestrone should include onions, potatoes, carrots, beans and tomatoes.
This version also incorporates eggplant, red pepper and kale, as that’s what my weekly veg box delivery included. I definitely recommend using kale, not only because it’s ridiculously healthy, but it also has a good “bite” that contrasts with the other, softer vegetables. Eggplant and red pepper could be readily substituted with zucchini, green beans, peas, cabbage or whatever odd vegetable lurks in the back of your fridge. Or just add a bit more carrots or potatoes.
Start your soup off by sautéing bacon or pancetta. Or if you want a vegetarian minestrone, skip this and add the veggies to the pot with about 2 tablespoons olive oil.
Once your veggies are in there, cook for a bit so they soften slightly and then add your cooking liquid. I use water but if you have homemade chicken or vegetable stock, feel free to use that (I was not lucky enough to have that…it’s somewhere on my to-do list). I don’t like using store-bought flavoring, especially the bouillon granules or canned broth, as they have weird ingredients (dried glucose syrup, concentrated chicken extract?) and lots of salt. Rather I prefer to use water then build flavor – in this recipe it’s built with sautéed bacon, the vegetables themselves, bay leaves and a rind (crust) of Parmesan cheese.
If you buy a wedge of Parmesan – which I recommend as opposed to buying pre-grated, not just for better flavor, but it’s also much less expensive – save the inedible, rock-hard rind in a plastic bag in your fridge. Add it to soups or stews and it’ll impart a deep mellowness that you otherwise wouldn’t get. If you don’t have an old rind on hand, cut off a small bit from a wedge of Parmesan.
Now all that’s left to do is let the soup simmer away, the longer the better. I recommend a half hour minimum, but go up to an hour if you have time to allow the flavors to meld together.
Finally add the beans. I typically use canned as I don’t plan ahead enough to soak dried beans overnight, but feel free to use fully cooked dried beans if you are a planner. Add beans at the end of cooking, just long enough for them to heat through. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and some grated Parmesan and you have yourself a hearty winter soup.
And just a note to check out my updated Recipe Index for a categorical list of all my recipes. And if you are in the London area, please join me next Thursday, January 22, for my first cooking class of 2015 – Southern Style. We’ll do pulled pork, coleslaw, peach cobbler and more.
Hearty Minestrone Soup (6-8 servings)
Note: A “medium chop” is about a half-inch or a little over 1 cm. For the kale, the darker the better. I used cavolo nero (also known as black cabbage or Tuscan kale).
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 ounces (80 grams) pancetta or bacon, cut into small pieces
1 onion, chopped medium (about 1/2″ or 1cm pieces)
1 carrot, chopped medium
1 stalk celery, chopped medium
1 potato, chopped medium
1/2 lb (225 grams) kale, stems and tough center ribs discarded and leaves roughly chopped
1 small eggplant, chopped medium
1 red pepper, chopped medium
28 ounces (800 grams) canned/tinned chopped tomatoes
4 1/2 cups (1 liter) water
Parmesan cheese rind or small slice of Parmesan cheese
2 bay leaves
15 ounce (400 grams) canned/tinned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Add olive oil and pancetta to a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Heat until pancetta has rendered fat and is lightly browned, stirring once or twice, about 3-5 minutes. Add onion, carrot, celery and potato and cook until starting to soften, 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust heat if vegetables start to brown. Add kale, eggplant and red pepper and saute for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes (with their juices), water, Parmesan rind and bay leaves. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer with lid askew until vegetables are softened, about 30 minutes, though simmering for 1 hour is recommended as the soup becomes more flavorful. Add the beans and cook 5 minutes until beans are heated through. Remove the Parmesan rind and bay leaves and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve soup in bowls sprinkled with grated parmesan. Tastes even better the next day, or the day after that.