Saturday, December 05, 2009

Minestrone, Hearty Italian Soup

I gave you a dessert earlier and after thinking on it what you probably need is a nice bowl of hot soup. Here is a very easy recipe for a classic Italian country style soup. The good thing about it is that you can play around a little with the ingredients if your pantry is missing something. You can also substitute or add canned white (cannellini) beans or garbanzo beans for or with the pasta to kick up the protein. I personally like it with both beans and pasta but you can make it a little lighter by losing the pasta. If you don't like cabbage(the traditional way) you can use fresh spinach or kale and either are fine. If you use vegetable stock instead of chicken then this is a solid vegetarian dish. I personally use low sodium chicken stock(Swanson) as I haven't really found the commercial vege stocks to be that good. Homemade vege stock is another matter.

1 28 oz. canned plum tomatoes with juice (try to find San Marzano from Italy) fresh plum tomatoes will work too of course and if you have them you will need about 10.
3 medium carrots
2 medium leeks (very nice but not absolutely necessary)
4 -5 ribs of celery
2 medium onions (red or sweet are best)
1 small head of savoy cabbage (you can use regular cabbage but it is stronger in flavor and if you want you can substitute fresh spinach or kale instead of cabbage.)
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary (if you only have dried then use half as much)
3 cups stock (chicken or vegetable but the chicken is best)
14 oz can of white beans (cannellini or garbanzo) optional (drained, rinsed, drained)
1 cup(handful) of fresh basil, torn into small bits (if you only have dried basil then a tablepoon will do the job but fresh is really best)
6 oz small pasta, (elbows, ditalini, etc. or even spaghetti broken up into inch pieces)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
Parmesan cheese, grated(Parmigiano Reggiano is best)

Get all of your vegetables chopped. Using only the white and light green part of the leeks, quarter lengthwise, rinse well and chop. Cut your celery in half lengthwise and chop. Quarter lengthwise and chop the carrots. Chop the onions and garlic. Core and roughly chop the cabbage. It's important when preparing all of the vegetable that they wind up about the same size so that they will cook evenly. I like it when they are about 1/2 inch or so.

Put the carrots, leeks, celery, onion, garlic and rosemary into a heavy bottomed soup pot like a Dutch oven with about two tablespoons of olive oil and cook over medium heat until just tender (maybe15 minutes). Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 more minutes. Add the stock, bring back to the boil and add the pasta and simmer for 15 minutes to cook the pasta. Add the cabbage, cover the pan and simmer for another 10 minutes. Now you can add the basil and canned beans (if using) and bring it all back to the simmer and cook for 5 additional minutes. Adjust for salt and pepper. The soup will be pretty thick since the pasta will thicken it quite a bit. It is really important not to overcook the cabbage, it should still have its fresh dark green color.

Serve with good crusty bread or drizzle the sliced bread with olive oil and toast in a hot oven (400F) for 10 - 15 minutes (my favorite). It is nice to drizzle some additional olive oil over each bowl right as you serve it. Serve a bowl of grated Parmesan on the table for those that wish it.

Update: Madam pointed out that I meant cannellini beans not cannelloni beans. Cannelloni beans are hard to find and making them yourself is a real pain...stuffing each bean with marscapone.

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