Minestrone for the Masses
What with my little review of my hometown soda fountain below and now this, it would seem that I am at risk for turning the Refuge into a food blog. I assure you that I will not be veering into regular essays on the trappings of banal domesticity. However, I think this is damn fine minestrone. I typically make it during the cooler months of the year, so as a nod to the recent autumnal equinox, I figured I'd toss it out here on the Bushwell blog.
Buon appetito, you bonobos!
Adapted from Food and Wine, vol. 1 (5) Sept. 1978, p. 58.
serves 12 or more
This minestrone soup recipe produces something more akin to a stew rather than a mere soup. It has a rustic, robust yet nourishing and comforting quality to it, and for this reason, I often make this soup as a gift for parents of a new baby, and also enjoy serving it to good friends and family. Thus making this minestrone, albeit involved, is a labor of love.
I have included suggestions for a vegetarian version in the notes following the recipe.
- 8 cups chicken stock, either homemade or canned
- 3-4 beef soup bones (also beef shanks or meaty ribs will work)
- 4-5 T virgin olive oil
- 3 medium sized onions, peeled, halved and coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 3 large ribs of celery, chopped
- 4 carrots, trimmed, peeled, and sliced (fairly thick slices, ~ 1/4 inch or so)
- 1 large green pepper, seeded, de-ribbed, and coarsely chopped
- 1-2 tsp salt
- 10-12 grinds of black pepper (or 1/4 tsp)
- large pinch of rosemary, dried or fresh
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 zucchini, washed and skin on, trimmed, halved lengthwise and sliced medium-thick
- 1 cup (or so) fresh mushrooms, sliced
- 1 cup coarsely chopped parsley (no stems!)
- 3-4 cups canned white beans, e.g., Progresso cannellini, also called white kidney beans, drained and rinsed.
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage links
- 1 and 1/4 cups (~10 oz) of ditilini or other very small pasta (vermicelli broken into 1 inch lengths works, too but I prefer ditilini)
- 8 fresh plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and corasely chopped (alternatively a 16 oz can of well drained Progresso plum/Italian tomatoes will work, but fresh is superior)
- 3 cups or so fresh spinach leaves, washed, de-stemmed, and coarsely shredded.
"Gremolatta" garnish(optional but really tasty)
- Reserved (see directions) 1/2 cup of parsley
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
Toast for accompaniment
- loaf of Italian bread
- high quality virgin or extra virgin olive oil
- Parmesan cheese
- In medium sized uncovered saucepan or stockpot, brown beef bones over medium heat in 1T olive oil. Add chicken stock and simmer with beef for 15 minutes to intensify flavor. Do this while preparing vegetables. Stock may sit covered while the vegetables are sauteed.
- In second large stockpot, add 4 T olive oil and heat at medium flame or setting until olive oil is hot and shimmering (not smoking!) then add onions and garlic. Saute until translucent while stirring (~3-5 minutes).
- Add celery, carrots, and green pepper. Toss to coat vegetables in oil. Add salt, black pepper, rosemary and bay leaf and toss again quickly. Lower heat to a low flame or setting, cover the pot and cook for 5-8 minutes to “sweat” the juices out of the vegetables. At this point, they will lose their rawness but will still be quite firm.
- Uncover the pot, raise the heat to medium-high and give the vegetable mixture several quick tosses for a minute or two. Add the sliced zucchini and toss for another minute or two. Add the mushrooms and again, toss for a minute or two.
- Add 1/2 cup of the chopped parsley, reserving the other half cup for the garnish. Toss to mix. Pour in the hot enriched stock (remove bones first and reserve for step 6). Add beans. Lower the heat to medium-low or less and simmer the soup, uncovered fro 10 minutes or until vegetables are just tender. Remove bay leaf and adjust seasoning, i.e., add salt (likely not necessary if using canned stock) or more pepper.
- Make the optional garnish by combining the 1/2 cup of reserved parsley, the chopped basil and the minced garlic.
- Boil sausage links in 2-3 quarts of water for 15-20 minutes. If soup was refrigerated, bring back to a low boil/simmer. Meanwhile, remove the meat from the reserved beef bones. Trim fat. Add to soup. When sausage is done, microwave the links on microwave safe dish covered with a paper towel (also cover top of sausages with paper towel or waxed paper to prevent splattering) at high power for one minute, then turn sausages over and microwave one minute or so more. Allow to cool, cut in half lengthwise, then slice medium-thick on the bias.
- Raise heat to medium and bring soup to somewhat more than a simmer, i.e., moderate boil.. Add ditilini or vermicelli to hot simmering soup and cook about 2-3 minutes. Then add tomatoes, spinach and sausage until heated through, another 5 minutes or so. Turn the heat off or down to a bare minimum simmer before serving.
- Just before serving soup, prepare accompanying toast by slicing Italian bread (ciabatta works well) to 1 inch or so thickness. Brush one side with olive oil, then sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese (~2 tsps to 1 T). Toast in toaster oven (or under broiler but keep a sharp eye on the bread since they can burn rapidly) until cheese begins to bubble and turn brown around the edges. If this is too much trouble, good quality sliced and warmed Italian bread is a good accompaniment.
- To serve soup, add a generous pinch of the parsley/basil/garlic to each bowl and ladle soup over this. Alternatively, place the garnish in a small bowl on the side with garnish to be added to taste by each individual. Serve with the Parmesan/olive oil toast.
The soup can be prepared ahead to this point. For same day preparation, simply turn off heat and cover it, and take a break. If you’re doing this a day ahead, refrigerate the soup. Also, if preparing the soup a day ahead, the sausage preparation “de-meating” of the beef bones, tomato and spinach and garnish preparation may be done on the day or serving. Allow an hour or so to reheat soup and continue with the preparations.
This is not a simple quick and easy recipe, but well worth the time and effort. The preparation of all the vegetables consumes some time. I typically have the vegetables for steps 1 through 6 ready before I brown the beef bones and simmer them in the stock. If this is a same day preparation for dinner that evening, I usually start around noon. It takes, including vegetable chopping time, about 2 hours or so to get to step 6. In the event of leftovers (and this does make a wonderful leftover and freezes well) add a bit of water to the soup before reheating.
This recipe can be readily converted to a vegetarian version. Obviously, just omit the meat products and substitute a good quality vegetable stock for the chicken stock. I would also suggest adding a small de-seeded and finely chopped chile pepper along with the green pepper, and adding a teaspoon of fennel seeds along with the rosemary and bay leaf.
A good red Italian wine, e.g. sangiovese, works well with the soup. Addition of antipasti and canolli (I buy these at local Italian markets) turns this into a full-fledged informal dinner party entrée.