Winter is soup weather, especially when the sky is a muted gray, shot through with streaks of white. It reminds me of a mussed-up chalkboard covered with writing that’s ready to be wiped clean, once the clouds let loose with an avalanche of snow, sleet and rain. Speaking of which, that’s supposed to be the weather this weekend, as a nor’easter is scheduled to smash into New York metropolitan area after having wreaked havoc throughout the rest of the country.
One seasonal favorite that makes a regular appearance at my table is minestrone. Its content depends on what’s good at the market, and almost always contains a bounty of fresh vegetables, packed with flavor. You can make it from ingredients that literally cost pennies. It pays for itself after the first meal, as the flavors develop marvelously on the second and succeeding days thereafter.
It’s a substantial soup that’s nearly a meal in itself. Pair with a green salad, a crusty loaf of bread and a glass of crisp, dry white wine, and you have the makings of a perfect lunch or dinner.
You can’t ask for much more than that.
This soup is a great example of using water instead of stock as a liquid base. You can use vegetable stock or chicken stock if you like, but I prefer water instead because it presents a blank canvas against which the vegetables can make their mark.
Don’t let the list of ingredients scare you off into thinking this is an overly complicated recipe. You can vary the ingredients based on whatever you have on hand and it will still be delicious.
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 medium to large potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
2 celery ribs, trimmed and diced
leaves from the celery ribs, finely minced
1/2 head winterbor kale*, shredded
1/2 acorn squash or pumpkin, peeled, seeded and diced
1 zucchini, trimmed and diced
2 tomatoes, cored and diced
1/2 head cauliflower, trimmed and finely chopped
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
sea salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
2-3 bay leaves
enough FRESH (you can use dried but if you do, I will know :p) oregano, Italian parsley, thyme and rosemary to make about 1/4 cup chopped herbs
2 cups water
2 cups cannellini bean cooking liquid
a small piece of rind from a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional)
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional, for garnish)
chopped Italian parsley (for garnish)
extra-virgin olive oil (for garnish)
Gently warm olive oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-low heat, then add the onion and potato. Cook until the vegetables leave a thin film on the bottom of the pot and the onion has become somewhat translucent, about 5-6 minutes.
Add the remaining vegetables and the beans, herbs, liquids and seasonings to the pot. Reduce heat to low and cook, partially covered for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours. If you want, add some rind from a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese at this point.
Taste for salt and pepper. In the picture above, you also see about 1/4 cup cooked rice that I had to use before it turned. You can augment the soup with cooked pasta, but it really doesn’t need it. This is a very substantial soup, as befits a minestrone and is perfect for a cold winter’s night such as tonight. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, top with a spoonful of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese if desired, stir in some chopped Italian parsley, then serve at once.
This recipe makes about 6 to 8 servings.
Time: About 2 1/2 hours, prep time included.
* Winterbor kale is a hybrid variety of kale, known for its extraordinarily ruffled leaves. Substitute regular kale or Swiss chard if unavailable.