When I want to feel like a fancy peasant, I make soup. I say fancy peasant because the reality is I’ve been too fortunate in life and I am too high maintenance to be a real peasant. But after reading those mammoth Ken Follett novels depicting the life of peasants from the 12th and 14th centuries, hunkering down at the end of a deplorable day to a bowl of soup and day-old bread, I think we all have a little peasant in us when we make a big pot of soup. I love those soup recipes with a long list of ingredients that look like a daunting task, but are almost as simple as making a sandwich. This week I decided to make a big pot of minestrone soup. Swirled right before serving with a dollop of homemade basil pesto, served with a hunk of good multi-grain baguette and a spread of our favorite cheeses.
In my recipe below, I used a few creamy yukon gold potatoes rather than pasta. Feel free to swap the yukons for a cup of so of your favorite small pasta shape. It is best to cook the pasta separately and add it to the bowls when served. This prevents the pasta from getting mushy. The addition of fresh pesto was fantastic, and added to the fresh flavor of the vegetables. If you don’t feel like making it yourself, there are some decent jarred pestos on the market. I should mention that making this pesto takes minutes with big results.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE MINESTRONE (Makes a big pot of soup)
- 3 – 1/4″ slices pancetta, diced (about 1/3lb)
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 3 celery stalks, chopped
- 15oz can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 15oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 14oz can diced tomatoes
- 10 cups chicken stock
- 6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 or so cups savoy cabbage, chopped
- 4 small yukon gold potatoes, cut in wedges
- 1″ chunk parmesan rind
- 1 zucchini, 1″ dice
- 6oz green beans, snipped
- Kosher salt & pepper
Place a large stock pot on medium-high heat and pour a little olive oil in the bottom of the pan. Add the diced pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally until it begins to crisp up. Add the onions, carrots, and celery to the pancetta and cook, stirring until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the beans, diced tomatoes, chicken stock, thyme, bay leaves, cabbage, potatoes, and parmesan rind. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir, bring to a boil and immediately reduce to low heat. Simmer covered for one hour, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning about half way through.
After one hour, add the green beans and diced zucchini and cook for another 15-20 minutes.
Serve with a dollop of fresh pesto on top and a big hunk of fresh baguette on the side.
* You can easily make this soup vegetarian by omitting the pancetta and using vegetable stock. Remember to remove the bay leaves and parmesan rind before serving.
INGREDIENTS FOR PESTO
- 1 clove of garlic, halved
- 1 cup packed fresh basil
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
- Kosher salt & pepper to taste
Put the garlic and basil in a small food processor and blend. Add the olive oil and process again until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl, stir in the cheese, and season with salt and pepper. The parmesan is salty so you don’t need to add too much salt.