Monday, January 27, 2014

Minestrone della Famiglia

In the midst of making this recipe, I almost felt like I should update my facebook relationship status. Because getting involved with this soup is a serious commitment. Then I considered how my husband would take the news, and I continued chopping. 

After enjoy the comforting freshness of this soup whose recipe was taken from The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, I felt like it was worth it. 

So here we go.

My supplies:

The first round of sauteing (onions, carrots, beans):

Some more additions to the saute (adding potatoes, zucchini, and kale):

The second saute of the meats, onions, garlic, and sage (oh my word our kitchen smelled so delightful!):

As if that wasn't enough, add some herbs to the saute: 

Oh and once it was all together and all done, it was so comforting and delicious:

The original recipe:

2 medium red onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium potato, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium stalk celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 large kale leaves, finely chopped
Rind from 1/2 pound or more (2 by 4 by 5 inches) of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional)
1/2 (14-ounce) can whole tomatoes, with their liquid
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Robust extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/8-inch-thick slice pancetta, minced
1 1/8-inch-thick slice good-quality salami, minced
6 large fresh sage leaves
1/4 medium Savoy or green cabbage, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tightly packed cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/4 tightly packed cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 1/2 cups cooked borlotti or pinto beans (rinsed and drained if canned), half of them pureed in a food processor
2 large stalks (with leaves) Swiss chard, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup small pasta (such as ditalini, acini di pepe, meloni, or stelle)
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (optional)

For Grandfather's Minestrone for 8 People:
8 1/2-inch-thick slices rugged wholegrain bread, toasted
About 1/2 cup robust, peppery Tuscan extra-virgin olive oil

Set aside about one third of the onions. In a 6-quart pot, combine the rest of the onions and all the ingredients up to and including the tomatoes. Cover by an inch with water. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer very gently 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, film the bottom of a 10-inch skillet lightly with olive oil, Set over medium-high heat. Add the reserved onions, the pancetta, salami, sage leaves, and a handful of the cabbage. Saute to a rich golden brown. Stir in the garlic, parsley, and basil. Cook another minute.

Blend the saute into the cooked vegetables along with the remaining cabbage, the beans, including their puree, the chard, and water to cover everything by about an inch. Simmer slowly, partially covered, another 45 minutes. Add more water as needed so the soup has the consistency of a watery stew.

Season to taste, stir in the pasta, and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Serve hot or warm with olive oil, a peppermill, and the cheese passed separately. (Minestrone reheats beautifully and is even better the second day.)

For Grandfather's Minestrone: Lay a slice of toasted bread in each of eight soup bowls. Moisten each slice with about a tablespoon of olive oil and ladle in the minestrone.

Our thoughts and notes:

Well, firstly, be prepared to spend at least an hour chopping, if you're making this by yourself. I'd say I have average speed at chopping- not super fast like the pros, but I do move at a good pace. So unless you're a speedy one, allow for a lot of  chopping time. I made 1.5 times the recipe, and oh man, it was a lot of chopping. It was so very worth it though. 1.5 times the recipe probably made 15 servings. My 1.5 times-ing was a little loose- for instance, I only used the amount of onion called for in the recipe, but probably used double the amount of beans, but many of the veggies were 1.5 times the quantity.   

I did not use cabbage, celery, or swiss chard, the former because I forgot to purchase it, and the latter two because the the bunches of them were quite large and I did not have any use for the remainder. Plus I don't think celery adds all that much. We also did not add the wholegrain bread into the bottom of the bowl. However, we did use all the rest of the ingredients. 

At the first step, I sauteed many of the vegetables for a bit in the stock pot (as per my pictures above) rather than simply stick them right in water to boil. I read a bit about minestrone soups before making this, and one of the suggestions was to saute some or all of the vegetables to add depth to the soup. As I chopped up a new veggie, I added it to the saute, and finally added water and tomatoes to boil.

Now, I was skeptical about using water instead of stock. But again, what I read is that the intermingling of the myriad ingredients should produce enough flavor that you don't need to "waste" stock in this soup. I do believe we had a couple cups of canned chicken broth left over from a recipe my husband made that day, so I added it in, rather than let it go to waste. But with all the different meats and vegetables and herbs, water works perfectly well. 

To get a true rind from a high quality Parmesan cheese would have meant spending quite a bit more money on a soup that was already not-particularly-cheap. However, I was interested in the additional dimension and flavor it would contribute, so we got a moderately-priced Parmesan cheese that had a kind-of-sort-of rind and used that. It worked perfectly well. 

In sum, this is a super flexible soup, into which you can put a huge variety of ingredients, and incorporate a variety of techniques to add depth and robustness. I like the intro paragraph to this recipe in Kasper's book:
Good minestrone depends upon letting all the vegetables cook long enough to exchange personalities. The formula here is the essence of country soup making: Use what's in season, deepen the soup's character with plenty of onion, saute some of the vegetables for contrast and don't forget the beans and herbs for flavor and body. Then let heat and time do the work. This recipe evolved over years of gathering ideas from Italian country cooks. It changes with the seasons and my mood, so don't hesitate to play with what's listed below. There is one inviolate ingredient-the Parmigiano-Reggiano rind. My frugal Tuscan grandmother always simmered leftover Parmigiano rind in the soup. With its incomparable flavor, no broth and little additional salt is needed.

The addition of grated cheese, salt, and pepper when you actually eat your bowl of soup is a must. It really adds to the soup. We did not add oil at the end, but I would love to hear from others who have done so. 

Lest you have come to the end of this an thought, "Golly, that is way too much work for me!" I will remind you that making 1.5 times this recipe makes about 15 portions. For us, that amounts to multiple lunches for each of us, some to freeze for a month from now when I have a craving for it, and some to give away to friends. Well worth it, I'd say.

I'd like to explore other minestrone recipes- do you have a particular minestrone recipe you enjoy? Any suggestions for making the soup better? 

Buon appetito! 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This may be dinner some night soon--thanks, Liz! :)