Winter Vegetable Minestrone

I wanted to make this winter vegetable minestrone to welcome my mom home from hospital as a bowl of soup always feels like the most nourishing and welcome thing when you’re not feeling one hundred percent. I also wanted to celebrate the vegetables that are available in the depths of midwinter so added parsnips to the soffrito to add a nutty note to the soup and used curly kale to give it real substance.

I had a few pints of Gammon stock left over from boiling a festive ham and wanted to make something really hearty and warming. For this winter vegetable minestrone, you can use a light chicken stock, a vegetable stock or similarly use a ham stock, as long as it’s not overly salty. I also had a large piece of Parmesan rind that I thought would add a great savoury note to this winter vegetable minestrone.  An Italian housemate of mine always had a stash of parmesan rinds in our fridge and they are an invaluable resource for adding flavour to soups and stews, especially amazing when you consider most parmesan rinds simply get thrown away.

Winter Vegetable Minestrone

Makes 5 or 6 as a starter or 3 or 4 as a hearty main

Ingredients

4 rashers smoked pancetta or bacon
2 small onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 carrots, thoroughly cleaned and finely chopped
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and chopped
2 parsnips, thoroughly cleaned and finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 x 400g tins of good quality chopped tomatoes
a bay leaf
200g or 7 oz of curly kale, washed and sliced
565ml/1 pint chicken, ham or vegetable stock
1 x 400g tin of cannellini or borlotti beans
80g or 3 oz dried pasta
parmesan cheese to serve
a large bunch of fresh fennel herb, chopped

Method

If you want to use fresh or dried and soaked overnight beans, then simply add 200g or 7 oz of them to a pan or water, with a bay leaf, a squashed tomato and a small peeled potato. These will help to flavour the beans and supposedly soften their skins. Cook the beans until tender and soft, which can take up to an hour for dried beans. Reserve a mug full of the cooking water and then drain the beans, discarding the bay leaf, tomato and potato. Season the beans with salt, pepper and olive oil.

Start the winter vegetable minestrone by making the soffrito. Heat a good glug of olive oil in a saucepan or lidded casserole over a medium heat and add the pancetta or bacon, onions, carrots, celery, parsnips and garlic. As soon as you hear the merest hint of a sizzle, turn the heat right down and sweat everything down very slowly, with the lid just ajar, for 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables are soft but not brown. You should be easily able to cut through the vegetables using a spatula, with very little effort and, if you feel the vegetables are sticking to the saucepan and are likely to catch, add another decent glug of olive oil. Once everything is really soft, add the tomatoes and bay leaf and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

Add the kale, stock and beans (either tinned or cooked). If you’re using a tin of beans, reserve a mug full of the water they come with. If you have any Parmesan rinds kicking about, add them in now. Put the dried pasta into a plastic bag, squeeze all the air out and tie a knot in the bag. Bash the bag gently with a rolling pin to break the pasta up into small pieces. Open the bag up and empty the contents into the winter vegetable minestrone. Stir and continue to simmer until the pasta is cooked.

If you feel the soup has gotten too thick, add more of the stock or the reserved bean water to thin it down a little. Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste. Top with the fresh fennel and a little extra virgin olive oil. Season with some lemon juice if you feel the winter vegetable minestrone is tasting a bit heavy. Serve the soup with a block of parmesan so that everyone can grate as much they like

This recipe was inspired by one found in Jamie’s Italy

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