It’s flu and cold season around here. Everywhere I go, someone has or is just getting over the flu or a cold or someone in their family is down (literally) with it. Several vendors at the Quarry Farmers & Ranchers Market have also been sick, so I should not be surprised that David got it, too. I got sick last year–it hit me hard–so I am doing my best to stay well.
You know what it’s like when you’re sick. You want to eat, but you don’t know what you want. Comfort food is always a welcome sight, but there are two of us and I am not sick. So, over the last few days, I have been struggling to find something to cook that both David and I would be content with. We agreed that minestrone soup might just be the chicken soup elixir he needs to get well.
As the family soup Nazi, I have made hundreds of pots of soup, but I have never officially made minestrone. I have made countless versions of vegetable soup, but never Italian minestrone, so I referenced the God of all Italian cookbooks in our house–Rao’s Cookbook. Need to make Rao’s famous lemon chicken? It’s right here. Marinara sauce, got it. Seafood salad? Check. Orecchiete with broccoli rabe and sausage, one of the best recipes you’ll ever have. Chicken Scarpariello, made it.
And a simple but absolutely fabulous minestrone soup is also in the cookbook. I think I took the soup over the top by making my own vegetable broth, but that’s not entirely necessary. It’s just that I tend to collect the stalks of broccoli, peels of carrots, leftover onion halves, fennel fronds and other miscellaneous produce parts and when I have enough, I toss it all in a pot and cover with water. Add a few whole peppercorns, bring to a boil and simmer gently for two hours. It makes an incredible stock that freezes well and is great to have on hand for exactly these moments.
But with or without a homemade stock, this soup will certainly inspire the sick to feel better and make everyone smile.
This soup was adapted slightly from Rao’s Cookbook
This is the best minestrone I have ever had. Hands down. Yes, I made it and I used a homemade vegetable broth, but I really think it was sauteing the thyme sprigs and parsley with the onions and other vegetables that gave this soup the depth of flavor. Adding the kidney beans gave the soup the right texture. While most soups get better with time, I think this soup is best the day it is made.
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped leeks or fennel
1/4 cup minced Italian parsley
1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 6-8 thyme sprigs
1 cup peeled and diced potato
2 cups diced carrots
1 cup diced celery, about 3 stalks
1 cup diced zucchini, about 2 small
1 diced red pepper
1 cup frozen green peas, organic
2 cups good quality canned San Marzano or Pomi tomatoes, diced, with juice
4 cups homemade vegetable broth or chicken broth (low sodium, please)
1 to 2 cups canned kidney beans, drained and rinsed well
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. When hot, stir in onions, leeks or fennel, parsley and thyme. Lower the heat and saute for about 5 minutes or until onions begin to soften and brown.
Add the remaining vegetables–potatoes, carrots, celery, zucchini, red pepper and peas–one at a time, sauteing each for about 3 minutes. When all of the vegetables are sauteed, stir in the tomatoes and broth and stir well to combine. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 1 hour. At that time, taste the vegetables and broth, adding salt and pepper if necessary. Since I made my broth without salt, I added about 1 1/2 teaspoons salt to the soup at the end. And I added lots of pepper.
Add the beans, mashing some against the side of the stockpot with the back of a spoon as you stir them in. This will also help to thicken the soup. Cook for an additional 5 minutes to heat the beans through. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in basil. If you have used thyme sprigs, remove the stems now.
Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle with grated cheese.