Seeing as how we grow a lot of our own produce we should know better than to simply judge produce on its appearance. In fact, often the best tasting fruits and veggies are downright ugly, and certainly not the stuff you would see on supermarket shelves. But both in our garden and at the farmers market we are still suckers for a pretty face. Happily, these days you can get both good-looking and good tasting produce. Such is the case with some colorful red carrots we bought at the farmers market. Beautiful, crunchy and sweet…we got a bunch.
So here we are back with our common challenge, “what do we do with all these carrots?” Well, with carrots we either eat them raw with a pinch of salt (never gets old), or we are making soup. Seeing as how salted carrots doesn’t make up much of a blog post, we went for soup. If we had any pork stock or ham hocks we would make “holiday hangover soup” or a garbure, but we don’t. We did have chicken stock and some left over pasta. Yup…time for Minestrone.
We won’t get into the history of Minestrone and we aren’t even sure there is a truly “traditional” recipe. But if you have some veggies, chicken or vegetable stock and some pasta, you can cobble together a decent Minestrone. Add a little cured pork, maybe some white beans, fresh herbs and simmer with a parmesan rind and you get something that gets pretty darn good. And feeds an army.
The recipe we use is a riff on a riff on a riff of an Ina Garten “Winter Minestrone” recipe, which itself is a riff on a very common formula. We change the recipe quite a bit, but we do use the same slate of winter vegetables, particularly some butternut squash that adds very nice sweet flavor to the soup along with a bit of spinach at the end that adds color and welcome bitter notes. We also use more cured pork (of course) dried beans we soak (yes, it is worth it), fresh herbs and the parmesan rind. Lots of flavor and not a lot of work other than chopping veggies.
What you do need here is time. Chopping the veggies takes a while. Soaking beans (either a long or quick soak) requires some planning and advance work. And cooking the soup takes at least an hour. Basically this is a weekend dish. The good news is that, as is often the case with this type of soup, the Minestrone is better the next day. So you can make a batch on Sunday and serve it for dinner and then have the Minestrone as a very tasty lunch or light supper later in the week. A pretty good deal and a very good way to use of some of those lovely veggies you get at the market…or from your garden.
(Adapted, somewhat, from Ina Garten)
Notes before you start:
- You can use canned white beans but we heavily suggest rehydrating and cooking dried white beans. The simply taste better.
- You can soak beans overnight (better) or quick soak the beans- just cover the beans with water, bring the water almost to a boil and then turn off the heat. Let the beans steep, covered, for an hour and then cook.
What You Get: Very tasty and healthy soup that will last for a few days.
What You Need: No special equipment required, just be ready to chop some veggies.
How Long? At least a few hours, mostly inactive other than chopping. Budget time to soak the beans.
(Makes 8 big servings)
- 1 pound dried white or cannellini beans (soaked overnight or quick-soaked)
- Olive oil
- 6 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced
- 1 1/2 cups yellow onions, diced (diced= roughly 1/2 inch pieces)
- 2 cups carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 cups celery, diced
- 2 1/2 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 3 large cloves)
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram or oregano (optional)
- 1 (26-ounce) can or box diced tomatoes
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 parmesan rind (optional)
- 6 to 8 cups chicken stock
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups cooked small pasta
- 8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
- Parmesan and/or Romano cheese for garnish
- Italian parsley, for garnish