Strange that I'm making a hearty soup during the springtime. But while most people are outdoors enjoying the warmer weather, I'm stuck inside, battling seasonal allergies (just call me the 'bubble girl'). I was craving something warm, comforting, and soul-satisfying...and minestrone fit the bill. Chock-full of vegetables, beans and pasta, it would definitely satisfy my voracious appetite (could sneezing a thousand times a day be burning a ton of calories?)
Once upon a time I wouldn't have dreamed of making soup from scratch. Flashback to my 9 year old self... as a latchkey kid, I would often heat up a can of Campbell's chunky soup when I got home from school. On rainy weekends indoors, I watched cooking shows on PBS, scoffing at the chefs (notably Julia Child) who would go through the trouble of making soup from scratch. I wondered whether Julia knew about my beloved chunky soup in a can.
Obviously a lot has changed since then. I finally realized that you can't get that homemade slow- simmered taste from canned soup. So despite my itchy eyes, runny nose, and labored breathing, I happily peeled, diced, stirred, caramelized, and simmered ingredients for hours last night. And you know what? It was all worth it.
MINESTRONE FOR ALL SEASONS
(adapted from Winter Minestrone, Gourmet Magazine Jan 2009)
Time required: 2 1/2 hours
2 oz chopped pancetta
1 1/2 red onions, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 15 oz can of Italian style diced tomatoes (w/ basil, garlic, oregano)
6 cups of low sodium chicken broth
1 lb of escarole, washed thoroughly and roughly chopped
1 15 oz can of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 piece parmesan rind
8 oz (1/2 box) of ditalini pasta (or similar sized pasta)
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine pancetta, red onions, celery, and carrots in extra virgin olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Season with salt and black pepper. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in garlic. Continue to cook over medium heat for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables start to caramelize and stick to the bottom of the saucepan.
In the meantime, cook ditalini pasta according to instructions on the box. Drain and toss with some olive oil to prevent pasta from sticking together. Set aside.
Push softened vegetables to the side of the saucepan and add tomato paste. Cook for 3-4 minutes, letting tomato paste slightly caramelize (be careful not to let it burn). Stir tomato paste into vegetables and cook for another 2 minutes.
Add canned tomatoes and chicken broth, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the saucepan. Bring to a boil, add in 1/2 of escarole and parmegianno reggiano rind and reduce to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for 45 minutes.
Add remaining escarole and cannellini beans, cook for another 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding additional salt and pepper as needed. Remove parmesan rind. Stir in cooked ditalini right before serving.
Serve with a crusty piece of bread. Enjoy!
p.s. Looks like I'm not the only one making soup this week - for more springtime soup inspiration, check out Justin's curried lentil soup at Justcook nyc.