It’s been so beautiful here in the mountains, it hasn’t snowed in nearly a week! I have my herbs and veggies in some dirt, soaking up the sunshine. I think this just may be my last Sunday Soup-Day post.
In Tuscany, minestrone is made from the basic pantry staples with whatever else looks fresh and wonderful thrown in; I’m using just that philosophy with this soup! It’s a classic Tuscan canvas, painted with American ingredients for this one-pot meal. Just omit the bacon and you have an amazing vegetarian soup, take out the bacon and the Parmesan rind and it’s even vegan.
The last time I was in Italy, I was trying very hard to learn as much of the language as I could, especially food words. A ‘minestra’ is a light, brothy soup, where as a ‘minestrone‘ (the ‘one’ part means ‘big’) is a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs affair. My adopted Nonna was making a big batch of minestrone and kindly explaining everything to me along the way. She carefully fried up slices of bread and rubbed them with a garlic clove, and there we struggled to teach me the word ‘crocante,’ which means ‘crispy’ or ‘crunchy.’ The delicious soup was served with her lovely garlic toast at the bottom of the bowl. Right them I was able to stump an Italian grandma in matters of the kitchen for the first/last/only time when I asked (in semi-intelligible Italian) why she went through the effort of making the soft bread, into crunchy toast, only to cover it in soup and make it soft again? She thought about it for a minute and came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter, that’s the way it had always been done and it was delicious. If it ain’t broke…
American Minestrone – served with garlic toast
Serves 8 – cost approx $.57 per serving
- 2 cups dry beans of your choosing – canellini or cranberry beans would be most traditional, I used cranberry beans ($.97)
- 4 slices bacon, cut in thin strips ($.50)
- 1 large onion, small dice ($.33)
- 2 large carrots, small dice ($.20)
- 3-4 ribs celery, small dice ($.25)
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
- 1 bunch greens of your choosing, 1/4 inch slices – Tuscan kale would be traditional, my neighbors collard have sprouted in their cold frame, so that’s what I used! Thank you friends! ($0)
- 1/4 head of cabbage, 1/4 inch slices ($.35)
- 2 Tbs tomato paste ($.16)
- 1/2 cup white wine ($.13)
- 8 cups vegetable stock
- 1 lb potatoes, 1/4 inch dice ($.25)
- 1 cup grain of your choosing – farro would be quite Tuscan, I used pearl barley because it’s cheap and accessible here in the states ($.43)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 parmesan rind (optional)
- fresh herbs of your choosing – I used thyme and parsley ($.25)
- 1 loaf rustic-style bread ($.50 – homemade ftw!)
- 1 garlic clove
So, today I’m going to write the recipe two ways, one more detailed and one more brief for you adventurous cooks like myself. I can’t remember the last time I followed a recipe to the letter! It’s good to remember that recipes (to quote one of my favorite movies) are more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.
Start this soup by putting your beans on to boil. They’ll need an hour or so to cook, so get this on first so they can cook away while you gather and prepare all the other goodies. If you’re strapped for time, the beans would be happy in the slow cooker in low all day while you’re at work or your could substitute canned beans.
Render your bacon in a LARGE pot. When all the fat has come out add in your mirepoix and garlic and saute until translucent. Toss in the cabbage, greens and tomato paste. Brown up the tomato paste a few minutes then deglaze with the wine. Add all remaining ingredients, except the fresh herbs, bread and garlic clove. Simmer until everything is done. Taste to adjust the seasonings, add back the beans with some of their cooking liquid and finish with the fresh herbs, let simmer a few minutes to meld the flavors. Serve over garlic rubbed toast. Done!
Over medium head, cook your bacon in a LARGE pot until the fat has come out and the bacon is cooked. When all the fat has come out add in your mirepoix (onions, carrots and garlic: those pantry staples I was mentioning earlier 🙂 ) and garlic and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add in the cabbage, greens and tomato paste. Cook for another few minutes, until the tomato paste has started to brown a bit and stick to the bottom, then deglaze with the wine.
Add all remaining ingredients, except the fresh herbs, bread and garlic clove. Simmer until everything is done, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour depending on the type of grain you’re using and the size of your potato pieces. Taste to adjust the seasonings! Remove the bay leaf and parmesan rind (if you used it) and add back the beans with some of their cooking liquid and let simmer a few minutes to meld the flavors. Finish with the lovely, fresh herbs.
While the soup is cooling down to a temperature human mouths can comfortably tolerate, toast up 1/4 inch slices of bread in whatever manner you see fit. Rub the warm toast with the garlic clove and place a piece in the bottom of each bowl. Pour over the soup and dig in!