Minestrone

IMG_7299

In Italian the word minestrone literally means “big soup”, in contrast with the simpler and lighter minestra. It’s a rich and satisfying soup of mixed vegetables – fresh or dry – to which pasta or rice is added in the last phase of cooking.
The secret of good minestrone lays in a long cooking, so that the vegetables almost melt, giving it an almost creamy texture. This way the minestrone will acquire a homogenous taste, completed by pasta or rice.
There are many recipes for minestrone, depending from the season when it’s cooked or the region of Italy where the recipe comes from.
It’s one of those country dishes that  Italian mothers and grandmothers used to make with whatever was available in their pantry or in their garden while today, with all kind of produce available year-round, we have the luxury to choose the vegetables we want to put into it. Don’t be too particular about the ingredients: while the sauté mirepoix is a must and the potatoes provide the starch to bind all other ingredients together, use a mix of vegetables that inspires you or simply those you have in your refrigerator. I guarantee that all minestroni will turn out equally good. I always recommend using only the vegetables that are in-season because they are fresher, more nutrient, and provide the minerals and vitamins that we need for that particular time of the year.

I suggest two different versions of the same recipe, one for the cold season and one for the warm season. Both of them use the same base ingredients, but the former is richer while the latter is lighter and can be eaten either warm or cold.
For simplicity’s sake, I’ll call them Spring Minestrone and Winter Minestrone.

 

Spring Minestrone

Ingredients:

(serves 4)    Sp  S  V  B  Gf (with rice)

6 cups of water
2 zucchini
2 medium yellow potatoes
2 stalks of celery
3 carrots
2 cups of shredded green cabbage
1 cup of shelled green peas
1/2 cup of dry organic white (like cannellini) beans (soaked the night before)
2 ripe Roma tomatoes
½ cup of tomato sauce (see my recipe)
½ medium yellow onion
1 leek (only the white part)
a few sprigs of parsley
6 leaves of basil
4 Tbsp. EVOO
1 tsp. of sea salt
3 ounces of small pasta (like ditalini) or rice
Parmesan to grate when you serve

You can replace basil with a tablespoon of homemade basil pesto (see my recipe), if fresh basil is available.
Soak the white beans overnight in a non-metallic vessel.The following day rinse the beans and set them aside while you chop the other vegetables.
Finely mince the onion, the celery and one carrot with a sharp knife. Warm up the EVOO in the pot where you will cook the minestrone, add the onion/celery/carrot mix (mirepoix) and sauté on medium heat.
Peel the potatoes cut them into small cubes. Wash the remaining two carrots, the zucchini, tomatoes and leek and cut them into small pieces.
Wash and shred the cabbage.
When the mirepoix becomes to brown, transfer all the vegetables into the pot, add the green peas, the white beans, sauté for a couple of minutes, then add the water and bring to a boil. Add the tomato sauce, the salt, and cook for one hour.
After half an hour check the thickness of the minestrone and, if needed, add some boiling water. Keep in mind that when you add the pasta (or rice) it’s going to absorb some water. When the vegetables start melting, add the pasta (or the rice) and cook until al dente. Wash the parsley and the basil, detach the leaves from the stems, chop finely with a knife and add them to the pot.
Serve warm or cold, grating the Parmesan cheese right before serving.

 

Winter Minestrone

Ingredients:

(serves 4)     W  F  V  B  Gf (with rice)

6 cups of water
½ lb. of squash (cabocha or acorn)
2 medium yellow potatoes
2 stalks of celery
3 carrots
¼ cauliflower
2 leaves of swiss chard
½ cup of dry lentils
½ cup of dry organic borlotti or pinto beans (soaked the night before)
½ cup of tomato sauce (see my recipe)
½ medium yellow onion
1 leek (only the white part)
a few sprigs of parsley
1 twig of rosemary
4 Tbsp. EVOO
1 tsp. of sea salt
3 ounces of small pasta (like ditalini) or rice
Parmesan to grate when you serve

Soak the beans overnight in a non-metallic vessel.
The following day rinse the beans and set them aside while you chop the other vegetables.
Finely mince the onion, the celery and one carrot with a sharp knife. Warm up the EVOO in the pot where you will cook the minestrone, add the onion/celery/carrot mix (mirepoix) and sauté on medium heat.
Peel the potatoes and the squash cut them into small cubes. Wash the remaining two carrots, cauliflower, Swiss chard and leek and cut them into small pieces.
When the mirepoix becomes a light brown, transfer all the vegetables into the pot, add the the beans, sauté for a couple of minutes, then add the water and bring to a boil. Add the tomato sauce, the dry lentils (rinse them first), the salt, the rosemary, cover and cook for one hour on low heat.
After half an hour, check the thickness of the minestrone and, if needed, add some boiling water. Keep in mind that when you add the pasta (or rice) it’s going to absorb some water. When the vegetables start melting, add the pasta (or the rice) and cook until al dente. Wash the parsley, detach the leaves from the stems, chop finely with a knife and add it to the pot.
Serve hot, grating the Parmesan cheese right before serving.

Chickpea Soup

During a recent trip to Italy, my dear friend Marisa kept praising the products of a flour mill in a nearby village so enthusiastically that we ended up making it the destination of a day trip together.
From the outside the mill didn’t look like much, but I’m used to the deceiving look of some Italian family businesses and I didn’t let the modest appearance of the premises fool me.
It  took one step inside the ancient building to understand what a unique and thriving enterprise it was. Continue reading

Carrot, Squash and Ginger Soup

My Dear Readers,

I’d like to express my deepest sympathy to all those of you affected by the devastation of hurricane Sandy. I hope that you and your families are safe and well, and that your life will soon return to normality.
Meanwhile, I wish I could bring to each and every one of you a bowl of this cozy soup, to warm up your stomach as well as your heart.
You are in my thoughts and in my prayers.

Ingredients:

(serves 4)  F  W  V  Gf  B

  • 1 lb. of peeled kabocha or acorn squash
  • 4-5 organic carrots
  • 4 cups  of organic vegetable broth
  • 1 medium yellow potato
  • 1 small piece of  fresh ginger (approx. 1 inch)
  • 4 Tbsp. EVOO

Cut the squash into four sections and remove the seeds. Peel it with a potato peeler or with a sharp knife. Especially in the case of the Kabocha squash, the skin is very hard so be very careful not to cut yourself. Continue reading

Ginger Carrot Soup

Although the season is warming up, the evenings can be cool and at dinnertime I still like the idea of a warming soup, like this all-time favorite.
Steam a pound of asparagus, serve them with my Quick Smoked Salmon (see recipe) and your Friday night dinner is complete!  

Ingredients:

(serves 4)  A  V  B  Gf

  • 1 ½ lb. organic carrots
  • 1 3-inch piece of fresh ginger
  • 5 cups of vegetable stock
  • 2 Tbsp. Evoo
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • ½ cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt (to taste, optional)
  • Pepper (to taste, optional)
  • Crème fraîche for garnishing

Peel and chop the onion. Wash the ginger and chop it coarsely. Heat the Evoo in a large pot and sauté the onion and ginger for about five minutes or until golden brown, stirring often.
Peel, wash and chop the carrots coarsely, then add them to the pot, together with the stock and the orange juice. Bring to a full boil, lower the heat to medium/low, and cook for 45 minutes.
Puree with an electric immersion blender until the soup reaches a smooth texture. Should the soup result too thick, add some hot water.
Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot, with a swirl of crème fraîche or a few drops of Evoo.

Squash Soup

Here in Northern California spring weather can be very capricious. Last Friday the temperature suddenly dropped, the clouds rolled in and that night it began raining. Then, on Saturday morning, the rain turned into snow. It was at the same time weird and sad to watch the white flakes covering the pink peach blossoms.
This morning my thermometer is reading 45 F and the weather forecast says we might barely reach the low 60s. It feels like “soup weather” to me, so I’m going to cook a nice, heartwarming squash soup. When I have a good soup for lunch I don’t need much more, perhaps some goat cheese on a gluten-free slice of bread or a light salad.
And thinking that I moved to California for its nice climate …

Ingredients:

(serves 4)  F  W  V  B  Gf

  • 1 lb. squash, Kabocha or acorn, peeled and cubed
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 medium potato, cubed
  • ½ yellow onion, diced
  • 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil or your favorite oil
  • 1 pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt (to taste, optional)
  • 4 tsp. of parsley, chopped

Peel and cube the squash. Kabocha squash has a very hard skin and it’s easier to peel it if you first cut it in slices, remove the seeds and peel it with a potato peeler.
Sauté the onion in oil until it turns golden brown. Add the cubed squash, the cubed potato, salt, and a pinch of grated nutmeg. Stir, add the water and cook for 45 minutes, checking that the soup doesn’t become too thick. If it does, add more hot water.
Blend with an electric blender. Right before serving it, sprinkle a teaspoon of chopped parsley on each bowl.
This soup freezes very well.

Chicken broth

Ingredients:

(serves 4 people)  A  V  B  Gf

  • 2 quarts of water
  • 1 whole chicken breast, with the bone
  • 1 onion
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 1 carrot
  • a few leaves of parsley
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt

Peel the onion and cut it in the middle. Warm up a non-stick pan or an iron skillet and sear one half of the onion for a few minutes, until it’s dark brown. This is an old trick to give an inviting golden color to your stock.
Wash all the vegetables and peel the carrot.
Put 2 quarts of water in a tall pot, add all the ingredients and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat and cook for 1 hour.
The broth can be used in several recipes (see Passatelli recipe) and the cooked chicken will be almost fat-free but tasty, perfect for your salads or for a light dinner.

Bell pepper soup*

Ingredients:

(for 4 people)  A  V  B  Gf

  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 1 onion
  • ½ clove of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 60 g. ground almonds or cashews
  • 1 teaspoon of dried marjoram
  • 2 pinches of nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 2 cups of stock
  • 4 Tbsp. liquid cream or soy cream

Wash and clean the bell peppers, remove all the seeds and white parts and cut them into small cubes. Finely chop the onion and garlic. Warm up the canola oil in a saucepan and stir fry the onions and garlic in it. Add the bell peppers, almonds or cashews, marjoram, nutmeg, and saffron. Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring. Add the with broth and cream.
Simmer for 10 minutes and puree with your immersion blender.

* Recipe by Sonja Bachus

Passatelli in chicken broth*

 Ingredients:

(serves 4)  W  F  B  Gf*

  • 2 quarts of chicken stock (see separate recipe)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¾ cup of bread crumbs**
  • 1 Tbsp. of chopped parsley
  • 1 pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 Tbsp. of semolina flour (optional in the gluten-free version)
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon rind
  • salt

Beat the eggs in a bowl, mix in the bread crumbs, the Parmesan, the parsley, Continue reading

Tuscan tomato & bread soup or Pappa col pomodoro

Ingredients:

(serves 4)  F  W  B  V

  • ¾ lb. Farmer’s bread (pain Pascal from Trader Joe’s is perfect)
  • 1lb. ripe tomatoes, seeds and skin removed
  • 6 basil leaves finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 3 cups of vegetable broth
  • 6 Tbsp. EVOO
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • salt & pepper

Warm up  3 Tbsp. of olive oil in a pan, add the garlic, the tomato paste and the basil and sauté them on medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon.
Chop the tomatoes and add them to the other three ingredients in the pan. Continue reading

Lentils soup

Ingredients:

(serves 4)  F  W  B  V  Gf

  • 6 cups of water
  • 1 carrot (chopped)
  • 1 celery stalk  (chopped)
  • 1 medium potato (cubed)
  • 1 leek (chopped, only the white part)
  • 1 ½ cup of dry lentils
  • 3 Tbsp. of EVOO
  • Salt (to taste, optional)
  • Pepper (to taste, optional)

Rinse the lentils. Sauté the leek in olive oil. You can skip this passage and put all the Continue reading