January 9, 2008
I mentioned to Kevin the other day that I was planning to make minestrone this week. He looked up quizzically and asked if I’d ever made it before. I answered that I hadn’t. “Huh, that’s weird. You make so many soups, but you’ve never made such a basic one?” Well, that was as good as a challenge. I clearly had to make minestrone now. And while I was at it, I should probably make the best one ever.
Minestrone wasn’t the only first for me in this recipe. I’ve never used dried beans (for anything other than a makeshift set of pie weights, that is). It’s definitely fussy. This recipe calls for an overnight soak for great white northern beans. And then a long simmer. So you’re almost in the double-digits for hours spent on the soup (albeit extremely inactive hours, which can and certainly should involve sleeping) before you’ve even pulled out the soup pot. But a quick taste test of the soaked-and-simmered beauties revealed a definite taste improvement. I’ll be soaking beans in the future, I think.
Aside from the white beans, if you thought yesterday‘s post illustrated the abundance of vegetables in our lives, that cole slaw has nothing on this minestrone. Kale, cabbage, carrot, onion, zucchini, green beans and red potatoes. Like I said, we’re keeping our produce market afloat this week. In fact, we have managed to put two entire heads of cabbage to use in a matter of days. For two of us.
This isn’t the prettiest soup I’ve ever made. I doesn’t have the velvety texture of this one or the vibrant pop of a shocking color of this one. But we all know better than to judge a book by its cover. And the more than 100 positive reviews on Epicurious for this soup had me more than willing to look beyond this soup’s humble appearance. As usual, the Epicurious commenters were right. This soup is terrific—hearty, rich and filling. Other than vastly decreasing the amount of bacon and olive oil and swapping shaved pecorino for parmesan, my only addition was a dusting of crushed chiles on top.
(Click “more” for the recipe)
1/2 pound (about 1 1/4 cups) dried white beans such as Great Northern, picked over and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound pancetta (Italian cured pork belly, available at Italian markets and specialty foods shops) or sliced lean bacon, chopped*
1/3 cup olive oil**
1 onion, chopped
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 rib of celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
2 zucchini, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 pound boiling potatoes
4 cups shredded green cabbage (preferably Savoy)
1/2 pound kale, rinsed, drained, stems discarded, and the leaves chopped (about 6 cups)
a 28-ounce can tomatoes, chopped coarse and drained well
4 1/2 cups chicken broth (preferably low-salt)
In a large bowl let the white beans soak in enough water to cover them by 2 inches overnight or quick-soak them. Drain the white beans, in a saucepan combine them with enough water to cover them by 2 inches, and simmer them, uncovered, adding more water if necessary to keep them barely covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until they are tender. Add the salt and simmer the white beans for 5 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and let the white beans stand, uncovered.
In a heavy kettle cook the pancetta in the oil over moderate heat, stirring, until it is crisp and pale golden, add the onion, and cook the mixture, stirring, until the onion is softened. Add the carrots, the celery, and the garlic and cook the mixture, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add the zucchini, the green beans, and the potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch dice, and cook the mixture, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add the cabbage and the kale and cook the mixture, stirring, until the cabbage is wilted. Add the tomatoes and the broth and simmer the soup, covered, for 1 hour.
Drain the white beans, reserving the liquid, in a blender or food processor purée half of them with 1 cup of the reserved liquid, and stir the purée and the remaining white beans into the soup. Simmer the soup, uncovered, for 15 minutes, thin it if desired with some of the remaining reserve liquid, and season it with salt and pepper. The soup may be made 3 days in advance and kept covered and chilled. Reheat the soup, thinning it with water as desired. Serve the soup with the Parmesan.
* I used about a slice-and-a-half of bacon.
** I used at most one tablespoon of olive oil.