Today’s harvest: Green beans, Zucchini, Onions, Potatoes, Pumpkin, Swiss chard, Sage, Rosemary.
One day, my dad came home and started telling about how he had talked to a person who, he could swear, had the same exact smell of a very important baron of some sort he had talked to when he was a kid.
“I could probably describe every single thing that was in the room just by thinking of that smell,” he said. “It’s crazy. I could have never remembered anything before I met this guy today. But now I could probably describe the carpet, the curtains, the furniture, and everything else was on that room that day.”
This Baron event made me think about how, in the days before leaving for the US, I often found myself paying attention to every single smell in the house, like trying to record a memory.
Even here in italy, I could find hints of smells that were everywhere in NYC. On the other hand, the one thing I could never find in NYC – the Baron, so to speak, was the smell of minestrone. Minestrone always smelled like something was off, for some reason.
Minestrone smells like Italy, just like lasagna, tomato sauce and the starchy water left in the pan after cooking pasta.
Every grandmother, at some point, needed to clean out the fridge. This soup is proof that works of art can emerge from scraps as well.
But we are not talking about scraps here. The pumpkin, onions, potatoes, tomatoes in the tomato sauce and the last zucchini all come from our garden. Making this from scratch requires some work, so you might want to make this on a weekend, with family or friends, when you know you can count on helping hands to cut all the vegetables. But it freezes wonderfully and you can keep it in the fridge to reheat for the next 2-3 days. Don’t be afraid to throw in extra veggies – the more there are, the tastier it will be!
So this fall Tuscan-inspired minestrone is essentially Italy in a bowl.
Serve warm, or not. If you purée it with a blender your kids will love it. Years later, their adult selves will love it as well.
And they will reminisce.
Fall Tuscan Minestrone
For the soffritto:
1/2 cup Olive Oil
3 Garlic cloves
5-6 Sage leaves
1 Large onion
3 Medium carrots, scrubbed
1 Long celery stalk, with leaves if possible
3 Medium zucchini
2 Medium potatoes, peeled
1 Large wedge of pumpkin
3/4 to 1 cups Tomato sauce
1 Bunch of Swiss chard or Tuscan kale
1/2 cup Grams Lentils
1/2 cup Grams Split peas
1/2 cup Grams Borlotti beans (or any other kind you like)
1 Organic vegetable bouillon cube (optional, but it does add a little boost)
A 3″x4″ (approx.) piece of Parmesan rind (adds flavor, but skip if you are vegan)
1 tablespoon Coarse salt
Grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Crusty bread slices, preferably whole wheat or Pugliese, tossed and toasted with EVOO, rosemary and garlic,
other gluten free alternatives like wild rice, quinoa, or millet.
* Later in the winter, substitute zucchini with a more appropriate vegetable, maybe another kind of squash or a root vegetable.
HOW TO SPEED THINGS UP
You can buy pre cut soffritto mix at most supermarkets. Just add the garlic and herbs and dump in the veggies. You can also buy canned legumes, just rinse them very well and add them 10 minutes before the end of cooking.
- If using fresh beans, soak them the night before with a bit of lemon juice. Lentils can be soaked for just an hour or 30 minutes. Once ready, rinse them well. Pre-cook the beans for about 20-30 minutes. If using canned, add them 10 minutes before the end of cooking.
- Wash, trim and cut all the vegetables: Finely dice the onion, celery and carrot – except one carrot that you can cut more coarsely. This chopped base of these three vegetables is called soffritto. Chop the other vegetables into chunkier pieces.
- Add the oil to a pot that can contain all the veggies and water to cook them. Peel the garlic cloves and crush them, then lightly stir fry them with the sage and rosemary. Even though the pot is big, it is best to use a medium fire for this recipe. After some 5 minutes everything should smell very aromatic.
- Add the soffritto mixture to the oil and stir around. Let it cook until the onion gets a bit translucent, another 5 minutes will do. Then, remove the herbs and garlic.
- Add the potatoes, Pumpkin, beans, split peas, tomato sauce, bouillon cube (if using) and Parmesan rind (if using). Stir things around a bit and add water to cover everything by a couple inches. Half cover the pot, and wait for it to come to a boil.
- At this point add about half a tbsp of the salt. It is best to check again for salt later. Keep it to a steady, gentle simmer.
- After 10 minutes, add the lentils, the zucchini and he chard. Now you can leave it to cook undisturbed for 30 more mins, just check it every now and then to make sure there’s enough water in the pot and nothing sticks. You can add more or less water depending on how thick you want it to be, but don’t add too much or it might get bland. When the soup is almost done, check for salt and adjust to your liking.
- For the croutons: Cut slices of crusty bread and rub them with garlic, olive oil and rosemary. Or, cut them into rough cubes and toss them with those ingredients. Toast them until crispy and golden.
- Serve the soup with the croutons or bruschetta, a bit more EVOO and a teaspoon or two of Parmigiano. It is really good straight from the pot, 1000 times better a few hours later or the day after.
– Use any kind of bean you like!
– Change the vegetables according to what’s seasonally available.
– Chickpeas, small pasta or other things like millet, rice, farro etc. would be great add-ons or bread substitutes. I actually added the bread just for styling purposes, as I tend to avoid it when I can.
– Miso would be good instead of the salt. Not italian, but it would do an awesome job!
Nutrition (divided in 8 servings, without the bread and Parmesan):
– 11g Fiber