one january day in college i got it in my head that i wanted to make minestrone. i didn't, however, have a recipe and wasn't sure what to do about that fact. (this was pre-internet-- for me, anyway.) when i arrived home from class that very afternoon i found the apartment complex monthly newsletter hanging on my doorknob. on page 3 was a recipe, presented by a corpulent, cartoon italian chef, for a warm and cozy escape from the january inclemency-- minestrone. sweet!
i headed out to the store immediately with my grocery list of fresh vegetables. carrots, celery, even a whole head of cabbage, for pete's sake-- i was thrilled to get home and make honest-to-god food out of these colorful raw ingredients.
sadly, the recipe was terrible. i wasn't savvy enough to realize it in advance, and was too new to cooking to know how to improve it. (now i know that 11 cups of water, chopped veg, and no seasoning does not a good soup make...) even worse, it was a bad recipe that made an ENORMOUS amount.
still, i've learned when the minestrone itch strikes, it must not be ignored. it can't be ignored. in fact, the universe wants you to have minestrone. i got a craving last weekend and this time i found a fantastic recipe. one thing that makes minestrone such a special soup is that it can always be made with what's in season, and this one, with winter veggies, is phenomenal.
i was able to get almost everything i needed from the stoney plains farm booth at the farmers market, including the cannellini beans. the bacon (the best in the world, as far as i'm concerned) is from skagit river ranch. the tomatoes and chicken stock came from my freezer.
adapted from gourmet, january 2009
4 slices bacon, chopped
1 cup chopped onion (about 1/2 medium onion)
2 small carrots, chopped
2 small ribs celery, chopped with leaves
1/2 bunch kale
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cups (or 14 oz can) diced or whole tomatoes
3-4 cups homemade chicken stock (or water)
1/2 small cabbage, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 rind from a parmesan wedge, about 2x2"
1 cup dried cannellini beans (or 1 14 oz can)
2 cups cooked ditalini pasta
if using dried beans:
sort beans and throw out non-bean material (rocks, sticks...). rinse, and soak overnight. drain, rinse, and cook in plenty of water, simmering until cooked, anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour. start checking them after 20 minutes to make sure they don't overcook. drain and set aside.
cook bacon, onions, carrots, and celery over medium heat in a heavy-bottom soup pot until bacon is cooked through. it won't be crispy. (i added no fat to this recipe at all-- the bacon was plenty.)
cut the stems off of the kale and chop. chop and reserve leaves. add kale stems to pot with garlic, and season with salt and pepper. cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or so. (the original recipe calls for a 45 minute cook time here, but i was afraid to burn the garlic.)
push vegetables to one side of the pot and add tomato paste to the cleared area and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. (original recipe calls for a browning or caramelizing of the tomato paste, but i was unsure what that exactly meant, so i just cooked it for 2 minutes.)
stir in tomatoes with their juice and cook another 5 to 10 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.
add chicken stock, parmesan rind, chopped kale leaves, and chopped cabbage. cover and simmer until greens are tender, about 40 minutes.
add beans to soup, taste, and season with salt and pepper. simmer about 10 minutes longer.
stir cooked ditalini pasta into each bowl and serve with a loaf of fresh bread.
this soup is a bona fide remedy for a cold and rainy day. it's hearty, incredibly flavorful, and the bacon makes it a true comfort dish.
i made my substitutions and tweaks, but you should definitely read the original recipe. it's the kind that you can make over and over, making your own personal improvements on it, until one day you've got a special family recipe that you'll teach your grandkids. seriously.