Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Big Soup

So it's 90+ degrees F out, and I'm making soup.  I know.  Crazy.

Anyhoo, I usually try to avoid recipes with more ingredients than I have fingers, but I was really craving minestrone, and so here we are.  I think it was worth it:

Minestrone (which means "big soup") is great because it's one of those flexible recipes that allows for adding whatever combination of vegetables you might have on hand.  The tradition of it dates back to Roman times, and it's accommodated the introduction of new foods over time in a way that rustic cooking always does from necessity.  For more interesting background, see here.

Spicy and Hearty Minestrone

1/2 pound dried cannellini beans (about 1 cup), rinsed and picked over*
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 ounces pancetta or bacon, cut into 1/4" pieces
2 medium celery ribs, split down the centre and chopped into 1/2" pieces
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/2" pieces (about 3/4 cup)
2 small onions, peeled and cut into 1/2" pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 medium zucchini, trimmed and sliced lengthwise, then cut into 1/2" pieces (about 1 cup)
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 small head cabbage, halved, cored, and cut into 1/2" pieces (about 2 cups)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 cups water
2 cups chicken broth
1 piece Parmesan cheese rind, about 5 x 2 inches
2 bay leaves
1 can Hot and Spicy V-8 juice (1 1/2 cups)
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
ground black pepper
grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups small pasta, ditalini, miniature shells or elbows

Phew!  Enough stuff?

Dissolve 1 1/2 tablespoons salt in 2 quarts water in a large bowl.  Add beans and soak at room temperature between 8-24 hours.  Drain and rinse well.

Heat oil and pancetta or bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until pancetta is lightly browned and fat has rendered, about 5 minutes.  

Add celery, carrot, onions, and zucchini.  Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, about 9 minutes.  

Stir in garlic, cabbage, and red pepper flakes; continue to cook until cabbage starts to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes more.  Transfer vegetables to a bowl and set aside.

Add soaked beans, water, broth, Parmesan rind, tomatoes, and bay leaves to now-empty Dutch oven and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are thoroughly tender and liquid has thickened, 45 to 60 minutes.

In the meantime, cook pasta until al dente.  Drain and rinse.

Add reserved vegetables and V-8 juice to pot, cook until vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes.  Discard bay leaves and Parmesan rind, stir in pasta and basil, and season with pepper.  Serve sprinkled generously with Parmesan.

*You can use canned beans if you like - drain and rinse them, and add them at the time when you add the vegetables back in.

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