When the weather turns brisk or you need a delicious tonic to heal all manner of ills, this classic Tuscan veggie soup/stew may prove just what the doctor ordered.
Minestrone, literally, "the big soup", boasts as many versions as it has home chefs. Let this no-oil recipe be your guide, but feel free to channel your inner nonna, and tweak it with other veggies you've got on hand. For example, Florentines have been known to throw in a little pumpkin or peas, when the mood strikes them.
This minestrone is lovely as a fresh "new" soup the day your make it, and different but equally wonderful upon reheating the next day, as the veggies break down a bit more and flavors mature.
One sure way to succeed in your plant-based kitchens is to cook in sizable batches. This recipe yields around 7 quarts, give or take. If you don't have a pot sufficiently large, just divide the ingredients & use two pots. It freezes beautifully, so unless you're cooking for a crowd, freeze some to to enjoy down the road when you're pooped and need a real pick-me-up.
A Tuscan Minestrone
Prep time: 1/2 hour, Cooking time: 1 hour Makes 7 quarts
3 cans white beans, rinsed well OR 1 lb dried white beans (cannellini, great northern) Large sprig of fresh sage leaves + 3 cloves garlic for cooking dried beans
1 medium-large onion, large dice
2 stalks celery, large dice
1 large carrot, large dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb green beans, cut in 1" pieces
1 lb mixed green and yellow squash, sliced lengthwise, halved, sliced
2 medium Russet potatoes or 1 lb new white potatoes, large dice
2-3 quarts no-sodium veggie broth or water
6-8 tbs good quality tomato paste & 2 medium tomatoes, large dice OR 1/2 28-oz can
good quality whole tomatoes
1/4 small Savoy or green cabbage, cut in 1/4" ribbons (chiffonade)
1 bunch lacinato (dinosaur) kale, rolled up & cut chiffonade
1 bunch Swiss chard, rolled up & cut chiffonade
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
To reconstitute dried beans: Rinse beans & soak overnight. Discard water. In a pot cover beans 1-2" with fresh water, toss in sage leaves and garlic cloves. Bring to boil, lower to just BELOW simmering. Gently steep for 1/2 hour or so or until soft and tender but not disintegrating.
This is a rustic soup so there's no need to be fussy with knife cuts. Greens are sliced into ribbons & the rest are roughly diced bite-sized.
In a large stainless soup pot sweat the onion with a pinch of salt over a medium-low flame, stirring occasionally. Don't add any liquid. Onions will begin to soften, carmelize & become translucent in a few minutes. If they adhere to the pan, lower flame & add 1-2 tbs of broth to deglaze pan.
Add carrots, celery & continue to sweat the veggies for 3-4 minutes.
Add garlic, stir, cook for another minute.
Add squashes, green beans & potatoes & cook for 3 minutes, stir occasionally.
Add the white beans & their cooking water if using dried beans
Add veggie broth or water to desired consistency.
Bring to a boil; then lower to simmer.
Stir in sufficient tomato paste or whole canned tomatoes, to achieve a pale orange color. Tomato is just one flavor in the ensemble; don't go heavy on the tomato
Add the ribbons of cabbage and kale.
Allow to cook on low until veggies are softened but maintain their shapes c. 30 minutes
Add chard & fresh tomato, if using. Cook for final 10 minutes.
Salt & pepper to taste.
Serve in large heated bowls with a nice salad, crusty wholegrain sourdough bread or homemade breadsticks or crackers. In lieu of parmesan, for a nutty, cheesy finish, sprinkle on a little nutritional yeast. Buon appetito!