On the Plate: Minestrone – a meal in a bowl
Brrr… winter well and truly arrived right on cue with those icy winds and horizontal rain on June 1.
My friend and I bravely headed out to enjoy a birthday lunch (hers, not mine) at a café in Ocean Grove. I booked in advance, cognisant that this was required on this, the first day that restrictions were eased and we could actually sit in to enjoy a meal. We signed in, sat and chatted away – and I hummed Happy Birthday at a whisper!
The soup looked very tempting, but I opted for a really scrumptious “nourish bowl” of both hot and cold elements. Cauliflower falafel, beetroot hummus, wilted kale and spinach, pistachio tabbouleh, sweet potato chips – it was sensational. A riot of colour and flavours to fuel me through the wintery afternoon.
Clearly soup is the order of the day for winter, and I keep retuning to a favourite – minestrone. Typically this soup is made from dried beans, a variety of vegetables in a beef stock, and small shaped pasta. The word “minestrone” is the noun derived from “minstrare” and means “to serve, to provide, to dish up”. It also conjures the notion “to administer” as in to “administer a remedy”. How appropriate! I think a warming bowl of minestrone, truly is a nourish bowl – one that provides a remedy against the chills of winter!
Minestrone can be well described as “the big soup, the one with many ingredients”. In some ways, there is no set recipe for minestrone, since it is usually made out of whatever vegetables are in season – and in the pantry! It can contain meat (I usually include bacon and use a meat stock) but it has been argued that the base of minestrone is bean broth, and that kidney or haricot beans must be included to make genuine minestrone, so it can equally be totally vegetarian.
Minestrone Verde (literally “green minestrone”) has a large proportion of leeks, green french beans, basil, chives and a little potato. Minestrone Genovese – a Genoese version – combines white haricot beans, aubergine, mushrooms and pumpkin – and when served is garnished with a generous spoonful of pesto – of course! In Elizabeth David’s beautiful book Italian Food, she describes Minestrone (1), (2) and (3) – all of which include cabbage in varying proportions. If using dried cannellini beans, soak these overnight in cold water – or it’s easier to use a tinned version, drained and rinsed.
As for the cabbage, well, I’m yet to be convinced, so I say “hold the cabbage!”
4 tbsp EVOO
2 brown onions
4 sticks of celery
2 cloves garlic
½ bunch continental parsley
3 rashers bacon
1 x 440g can tomatoes
1 desiree potato
200g green beans
200g cannellini beans*
150g small penne pasta (or similar)
¼ tsp chilli flakes
1-1/2 litres stock (or water)
100g parmigiano reggiano – shaved or grated, for garnish.
*substitute with a 440g can of 3-bean mix.
Roughly chop the onions, carrots, celery, potato and zucchini into 2-3cm dice – keeping each separate – and set aside. Chop the bacon to similar size. Peel and finely chop the garlic. In a heavy bottomed large saucepan, gently heat the EVOO and add onions and garlic, stirring until they soften, but are still pale golden. Add the potatoes, carrots, celery, chilli and cook a further 3 minutes until slightly coloured. Add bacon and cook again for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the cannellini beans and rinse under cold water. Add the cannellini beans, canned tomatoes (if whole, squash them a little – or use chopped canned tomatoes), stock, chopped parsley, reserving some parsley for a garnish. Cook on a gentle simmer 45 minutes. If using canned 3-bean mix/cannellini beans, reduce cooking time to 20 minutes. Next add the chopped zucchini and chopped beans and pasta – cook a further 15-20 minutes, until the pasta is al dente. Check for seasoning – add freshly ground black pepper and salt. The soup should be very thick and hearty, but more liquid (stock or water) can be added. Serve piping hot with fresh parsley and parmesan, a drizzle of your best EVOO and crunchy chunks of crusty bread.