Winter Vegetable Minestrone

Aunt Suzy says . . . 

The Wall Street Journal ran this article a few weeks ago on Minestrone, including 3 delicious-looking recipes.  I love making Minestrone and the message and recipes here expanded my thinking as to what this soup is all about.  I love the quote “But minestrone is, ultimately, a hyper-personal and hyper-seasonal chameleon of a dish, tailored to the current harvest and the cravings of the maker. This soup embodies better than any other the enviable Italian virtue known as sprezzatura: an artful effortlessness.”  When Randy and I were talking Sunday morning about what we’d like for dinner, he said he had bought the ingredients for this soup. I had planned to make roasted salmon, potatoes and broccoli, but given I had a cold, the Minestrone sounded way more appealing.  Plus I didn’t have to cook – what’s not to like?! We both had seconds of this! Like many “ugly duckling” soups and stews that we’ve posted before (like this, this this and this), don’t let the bland look turn you away – this is one delicious soup, made even better by the unusual pesto.

Guest chef Randy Tatum says . . . 

This recipe looked like an interesting use of seasonal ingredients, including celery root which I don’t cook with enough. I thought the soup could use even more winter vegetables, so I added rutabaga. I found this easy to make, even if it takes a little chopping. It’s one of those dishes that can really be flexible in terms of ingredients and quantities. Unlike Suzy, who always has flavorful homemade chicken stock in the freezer, I take a rather relaxed approach to creating a stock for my soups. It’s called Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base and is a more than acceptable substitute. I often use their “No-Chicken Base”, which tastes just as good but is vegetarian.  The pesto is indeed unusual and I agree that it really adds to the finished product. 

The Winter Vegetable Minestrone

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium celery root, peeled and cubed

1 large parsnip, peeled and cubed

1 large rutabaga, peeled and cubed

4-5 (or more) cups chicken stock (or Better Than Bouillon per their instructions to equal 4-5 cups)

2 bay leaves

1 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed and drained

1½ cups yellow split peas

4 (or more) cups shredded cabbage

1 small apple, peeled and cubed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the yellow split peas in a small saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Set aside. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once oil is warm, add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent and just beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook till fragrant.  Stir in celery root, parsnip and rutabaga, cooking until fragrant, another 5 minutes. Add the stock, bay leaves, beans, split peas, cabbage and apple. Stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot and simmer gently until celery root, parsnips and rutabaga soften, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

The Pesto, Pasta and Final Assembly

8 ounces whole wheat pasta, small shapes (we used fusilli/spirals)

1 cup leafy greens – spinach, kale or chard (we used spinach), coarsely chopped

½ cup toasted pecans, chopped (we used roasted/salted)

¼ cup fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped

2 whole garlic cloves, peeled

¼ cup olive oil

Cook the pasta to al dente according to instructions.  Drain and set aside. Meanwhile, make the pesto. In a food processor, purée the greens, pecans, rosemary, whole garlic cloves, oil and a pinch of salt until mixture is reduced almost to a paste. Turn into a serving dish.

To serve, place desired amount of pasta into a soup bowl. Ladle as much soup as you want onto the pasta. Place a dollop of the pesto onto the soup and stir to blend. Enjoy!

Aunt Suzy says . . .

I’m not sure how I happened on the cooking blog Greens and Chocolate, but this recipe looked so good that it propelled me to the farmers market the very next day to get the fresh ingredients needed to make it.  I’m crazy for soup lately!   This may not be a “traditional” approach to minestrone, but I liked the idea of using two of my favorite ingredients – kale and winter squash.  It did not disappoint.   We served with baguette and Valpolicella – delicious!  NOTE:  see the original recipe above  for instructions for making this soup in a slow cooker.

The Squash

1 small butternut squash

Slice the squash in 3/4-inch slices, removing seeds from the bottom portion of the squash.  Brush lightly with oil.  Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes in a 400 degree oven.  Do not overcook.  Cool, peel and cut into cubes.  You will use 3 or so cups of cubed squash in the soup.  If you have excess, set aside for another use.   NOTE:  This step was not part of the original recipe, but I got the idea from the method used in the Chipotle-Lime Soup with Pumpkin.  I think baking the squash first adds more flavor and substance.  But, you could skip this step and just cube the fresh squash and add 3 cups of cubes to the soup base with the beans if you’re short on time.

The Soup Base

2 celery stalks, finely diced

2 carrots, finely diced

1 white or yellow onion, finely diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried or 2 teaspoons fresh chopped sage

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped

5 – 7 cups vegetable broth or chicken stock (depending on how thick or brothy you like your soup)

1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes, not drained, or 1 1/2 cups chopped oven roasted tomatoes with juice

1 fresh bay leaf

Parmesan rind (optional)

2 (15 ounce) cans cannelini beans, drained and rinsed (or 1 can cannelini and one can red kidney)

Cover the bottom of a Dutch oven or soup pot with a thin film of olive oil and heat to medium.  Saute the celery, onion and carrot until soft, 5-7 minutes.  Add the garlic and herbs and saute for 2-3 more minutes.  Add the broth, tomatoes and their juices, the bay leaf, the parmesan rind and beans. (I used 6 cups chicken stock.)  Simmer for 20-30 minutes.  Add the cubed squash.  This step can be done a day or two ahead of time.  Refrigerate if you are not moving on to the next step immediately.   NOTE:  You can also add cooked chicken or slices of a flavorful, fully cooked chicken sausage, like tomato-basil.

Completing/Serving the Soup

1 large bunch kale, destemmed, rinsed and chopped

1 cup small pasta like macaroni or ditalini, cooked al dente (whole wheat recommended)

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Wash and chop the kale.  I used Lacinato (also called Dino) kale.  Regular kale would work well also, but I think a large bunch would be overwhelming in quantity.

Bring the soup base to a bubble and add the kale.  Bring back to a bubble, then turn down heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove the Parmesan rind and the bay leaf.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta al dente.  If you will use the entire quantity of soup immediately, add the pasta to the soup.  If not, put a serving of pasta into the bottom of each soup bowl and ladle the soup on top.  Either way, top with Parmesan cheese and enjoy!