Thursday, July 2, 2009

My So-Called Soup

Thursday: Spring Minestrone and bread

Cooking completely failed to happen today, mostly because I didn't have any of the vegetables for the soup, because I was so excited about all the lovely fresh veggies from the farmer's market that we ate them long before Thursday rolled around.

But this minestrone is truly wonderful - delicious, nutritious, and flexible. Assuming you haven't eaten 99% of the vegetables in your fridge, you can substitute almost anything, provided you add it at the appropriate time so it cooks properly.

Spring Minestrone with Peas and Asparagus
(adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters)

  • 1 cup dried cannelini or borlotti beans (or any kind of beans you have to hand; light-colored beans look best in this version of the minestrone, but if you're adding vegetables that add some colors, even black beans work well)
This will yield 2 1/2 to 3 cups of cooked beans. Reserve the cooking liquid.

Heat in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat:
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces. Do not let it brown. (celery or finely chopped carrots are good at this stage, too)
  • (I usually lightly salt the onions and whatever else I add at this stage)
Cook for 15 minutes, or until tender.

  • 2 or 3 stalks of green garlic, trimmed and chopped.
  • 5 thyme sprigs (marjoram or savory are good substitutions)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons salt (if you added salt earlier, add less salt here)
Cook for 5 minutes longer.

Add, and bring to a boil:
  • 3 cups water (or stock)
When boiling add:
  • 2 small leeks, diced (I rarely have leeks for some reason, so I often skip this step)
Cook for 5 minutes, then add:
  • 1 cup shelled peas (from 1 pound in the pod)
  • ½ pound asparagus, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal into ½-inch-thick pieces.
  • (green beans or snap peas are good substitutions for either or both of the shelled peas and asparagus)
Add the cooked beans, cook for 5 minutes then add:
  • 1 cup bean cooking liquid
  • 2 cups spinach leaves, coarsely chopped (about 1 pound) (any other green works well here, too - if you add red beet greens or rainbow chard, just remember that it will make the soup slightly pink)
Cook for 5 minutes. If the soup is too thick, add more bean cooking liquid. Remove the bay leaf.

Serve in bowls, each one garnished with:

  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon or more grated Parmesan cheese.
If not serving this soup right away, cool it down quickly in an ice bath so the asparagus does not lose its bright green color.

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