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 . . . 

We’ve got colds around here right now, which prompted me to make a huge pot of chicken stock a couple of days ago.  I remembered this really tasty soup that I made a few years ago and thought it would be a nice change of pace from the traditional chicken noodle.  I think the biggest reason it occurred to me to make it is that it’s easy and fast.  Once you have the ingredients gathered together, it takes under 30 minutes start to finish.  That’s very appealing when one has a cold!

2 cups small pasta (small shells, small elbows, ditalini, orzo, etc.)

1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 pound fresh Italian chicken sausages (roughly 4),  meat removed from casings and rolled into twenty 1-inch meatballs (pork would also work if chicken aren’t available)

6-8 cups low-sodium chicken broth or homemade chicken stock

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper OR

*Several grinds of Italian Street Fair spice blend

One 5-ounce bag baby spinach ( or 5 cups bulk), coarsely chopped

In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until it is al dente, according to package directions. Drain, rinse and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium high heat until shimmering. Make sure the pot/oil have heated completely or the meatballs will stick. Add the meatballs and cook over moderately high heat until they are lightly browned, about 4 minutes. (I found that I needed to do this in 2 batches.)  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a plate. Add the garlic to the pot and cook over moderate heat until lightly golden, about 1 minute.

Add 2 cups of the chicken broth, bring to a simmer.  Add the meatballs to the broth and simmer until they are cooked through, about 3 minutes.  Add the remaining chicken stock – 4 cups for a less brothy end product, 6 cups for a more brothy soup – and season with salt and pepper (or Italian Street Fair blend).  Bring to a simmer or set aside for later use if you are making this ahead.  This soup base can be refrigerated for up to 3 days prior to serving.

Add the spinach and pasta to the simmering broth and cook, stirring, until the spinach is wilted and the soup is piping hot, about 1 minute. Ladle into shallow bowls and serve.  Alternatively, if you are not going to serve all the soup in one meal, you can place a little pasta and a little of the spinach in individual bowls and ladle the piping- hot soup over to serve.

*If you happen to be lucky enough to live near a Spice and Tea Exchange, I highly recommend this blend that’s sold in a grinder. You can also order online – the link will take you to their site.

Aunt Suzy says . . .

I am always on the lookout for appealing and healthy things to eat for lunch given I work out of my home.  In the summer (finally here!!) I crave bean and grain-based salads with lots of flavor and color.  If you want proof, just click on Salads in our list of blog categories! The inspiration for making this recipe came from seeing it in the Linden Hills Co-op Deli.  After peeking at the ingredients, I realized I had all of them on hand.  This makes for a very nice lunch shown above with Cape Town Rooibos iced tea.  Today I had some cooked broccoli on hand and made the salad again with broccoli instead of spinach.  Equally delicious, if you happen to like broccoli.  Today’s lunch was the salad with broccoli, lemony quinoa salad with Tropical Green iced tea.

The Dressing

2-3 tablespoons EV olive oil

2-3 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

2-3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

Salt and black pepper to taste

The Salad

1 large or two small cans of chickpeas (about 3 cups cooked)

2 cups packed baby spinach, roughly chopped OR

1 1/2 – 2 cups cooked broccoli, roughly chopped

1 roasted pepper, diced

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese, or more to taste

Drain and rinse the chickpeas if using canned. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, except the feta cheese.  Add the dressing and gently stir to thoroughly blend.  Add the cheese and stir again to blend.  Or you can omit the cheese from the salad and add it once served.

Aunt Suzy says . . .

The cold weather continues to drive us to make warming soups and stews.  This flavorful stew is easy to make – even when cooking the beans from dried vs. opening cans.  The basis for this stew is sofrito, a savory tomato base used in many Spanish dishes.  It’s also at the foundation of a lot of Caribbean cooking, but it means something very different there.  It makes me think I need to make a great Puerto Rican chicken dish I learned years ago using sofrito . . . but I digress!  This is a beautiful-to-look-at dish as well as tasty.  The original recipe was from a Food & Wine article on Familia Torres, a Catalan wine maker.  Today we served this stew with their Sangre de Toro wine, one of my favorite inexpensive reds – delish!  We loved the Arugula-Mint Salad from Sunday’s dinner so much that we’re having it again.  It’s the perfect, refreshing foil for a rich stew.

2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked and drained

1/4 cup EV olive oil

1 onion, small dice

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

1 bay leaf

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained, reserving 1 cup of the juice

3 soft Spanish chorizo sausages, split lengthwise then sliced in 1/4-inch half moons

1/2 pound baby spinach, tough stems removed

Prepare the chickpeas:  Place soaked beans in a pot with water to cover by 2 inches.  Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer till done, about 2 hours.  Drain the chickpeas, reserving 2 cups of the cooking water.  Set aside both the cooked beans and the water.  This can be done a day or two ahead of making the stew.

Prepare the stew:  Place the olive oil in a Dutch oven and heat to medium high.  Add the onion, rosemary and the bay leaf and saute, stirring constantly until soft.  Add the garlic and stir for a minute or two until fragrant.  Add the drained tomatoes, bring to a sizzle and cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes.  Add the 3 cups total liquid (1 cup tomato juice and 2 cups bean cooking liquid), the cooked beans and the chorizo.  Stir to blend, bring back to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  This can also be done a day or two ahead.  The final step is to add the spinach, in 3 batches, stirring after each to blend.  Simmer for about 10 minutes to wilt the spinach, but be careful that it doesn’t disintegrate from overcooking.

NOTES ON INGREDIENTS AND AMOUNTS: The dried chickpeas added up to 5 1/2 cups cooked.  If you want to use canned chickpeas, you will need 3-4 15-ounce cans, drained and rinsed.  If using canned, I recommend using 2 cups chicken stock in place of the bean cooking liquid.  Make sure you are using (soft vs. dried) Spanish-style chorizo vs. Mexican.  Spanish is fully cooked and Mexican is fresh.  I used Chicken Chorizo from Trader Joe’s.  The original recipe called for a pound of spinach, but I think this is a lot – use your judgment!