TODAY’S THE DAY! TODAY’S THE DAY! Today is the day when we choose the winners of the Double Truffles. According to random.org, the two winners are numbers 13 and 33. That’s Maria at Two Peas and Their Pod and Kate at Kate in the Kitchen. I’ll need your addresses--email me at Kate(underscore)and(underscore)Dan AT yahoo.com, and I’ll get the goodies in the post after Christmas. The post office is a madhouse right now!
I don’t know about you, but right now I’m tired of rich food. I want something a little lighter, fresher, full of vegetables and simple goodness. Minestrone fits the bill perfectly.
Like much of my favorite Italian cooking, minestrone is very flexible - it takes advantage of what’s available when you make it. At its most basic, it’s vegetable soup. Made right, it’s a revelation. This is a dish that is different every time I make it--because what I have to use is different every time.
This soup starts with the ‘aromatics’--onion, carrot, celery. In Italian, these are called ‘gli odori’. Now, normally I love the Italian names of things--they’re just so musical and evocative. But in this case I prefer the English name, because ‘odori’ sounds too much like old gym shoes. Actually, in our house we normally call them ‘the usual suspects’. In any case, they fill the house with a wonderful smell, which presages the flavor of this soup.
I think minestrone needs some pasta in it--not too much, but a little bit. Because this makes more soup than we can eat at one time, I don’t put the pasta in the soup until I serve it, so that it doesn’t turn to mush. You can use any kind of small pasta. I had some tiny squares I found in Italy, but you can use orzo or even vermicelli that’s been broken into tiny pieces. If you leave the pasta out, the recipe is gluten free.
Most recipes also call for chopped cabbage or cavolo nero, which is a very dark kale-type cabbage that grows in Italy. It’s only good after a frost, so it’s really a winter vegetable. We don’t have it here, but I did have a chinese cabbage, so I used that. I don’t really like boiled cabbage too much, so I didn’t add it to the soup either. I put it in the bowl and poured the soup over it. I did the same with the green onions to preserve their sharp flavor and crunch.
This recipe came from my cooking course in Siena. In Italy they throw the rind from parmesan into the soup pot. It adds a richness to the soup, and gives some gooey melted cheese pieces that are like the cheesy croutons on top of French onion soup. I sometimes forget to keep them, but this time I had a couple so I threw them in too.
Enough for 6-8
1 T butter or olive oil
1 large onion
3 medium carrots
2 stalks celery, including greens
1 bell pepper (I used a red one, for color)
2 medium potatoes
1/4 celery root
2-3 medium tomatoes
125 g / 1/4 pound small pasta
3-4 kale or cabbage leaves
1 spring onion
a good handful of grated parmesan
salt and pepper
- Put the butter or olive oil in a large soup pot over medium low heat.
- Cut the onion in half, remove the peel, and slice it thin. Add to the soup pot.
- Cut the dark top off the leek, cut it in half, and clean it under running water. Slice it thin across the grain (giving you little semi-circles) and add it to the soup pot. Stir the pot.
- Cut the carrots into small cubes and add them to the soup pot. Stir the pot.
- Cut the celery across the stalks, including the greens. Add to the soup pot. Stir the pot.
- Chop the bell pepper into small cubes and add to the pot. You know what comes next.
- Chop the potatoes into small cubes and add to the pot. Stir it. By now all the onions and leek should be well sweated.
- Chop the celery root into small cubes and add to the pot. Stir it.
- At this point add water. I use boiling water, but it probably doesn’t matter. You want enough to come 8-10 cm / 3-4 inches above the vegetables.
- Chop the tomatoes into cubes and add to the pot. Yes, stir it again. Add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
- Leave this to simmer for about an hour and a half. Adjust salt to taste.
- To serve, boil the pasta and drain it. Chop the cabbage and the spring onion.
- Put some pasta in the bowls, along with some chopped cabbage and spring onions. Pour the soup over, and top with some fresh grated parmesan and pepper.
- Of course, you can adjust the veggies any way you like. I think it has to have celery, carrots, onions and potatoes. It’s good enough with just those, but add whatever you have to it.
- I never peel my potatoes or carrots. I buy organic ones and scrub them well. I like the peel!
- Celery root, on the other hand, has to be peeled. It’s a wonderful winter vegetable. We use it in salads, and add it cooked to mashed potatoes. It brings a light celery flavor to everything.
- In the summer you can use zucchini / courgette or any kind of squash in this. In the winter parsnips or turnips are good. Feel free to play with this recipe.
- We ate this with some good bread and cheeses.