Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Quick winter minestrone

Soups are currently top of my menu as the weather gets chillier and I crave something substantial, warming and comforting. Soup generally ticks all those boxes for me and this minestrone is especially hearty as well as very simple to make.

Best of all, you can get it into a bowl inside 30 minutes. The other huge bonus is that you probably have most of the ingredients in the larder already.

As usual, prep everything first. This makes two generous bowlfuls and I reckon it tastes as good if not better for reheating next day.

What you need: 
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
1 small packet of lardons (optional)
1 litre of vegetable or chicken stock
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 small (half-size tin) haricot beans
A handful of small pasta (baby macaroni or orzo)
A generous handful of greens, finely shredded
Pinch of mixed dried herbs

What to do:
Heat a glug of olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium hob and sauté the onion until it starts to soften. Add the lardons if using and fry until the fat starts to run off. Don't brown them or let the onions start to caramelise. Add the carrot, stir through for half a minute then pour in the stock, the tomatoes, the beans and the pasta. Season to taste and add the herbs.

Bring the pan to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the greens and simmer for another 5 minutes until the pasta is cooked to al dente. Dish up!

Cook's tips: 
Although minestrone is a chunky soup, the greens do need to be finely shredded - I aim to cut them as thin as Chinese "seaweed", which is actually made from cabbage, because they need to cook quickly. Most greens work well - spring greens, kale, cavolo nero and savoy cabbage all suit minestrone.

You can throw pretty much any veg into a minestrone as it's a seasonal soup that makes the most of what's available. If you don't have carrots to hand, use a parsnip, turnip or some celeriac. Use whatever beans you have to hand in the store cupboard - borlotti, cannelini and pinto, for example.

The basis of minestrone is vegetarian - any meat (or meat stock) is entirely optional. Bacon definitely suits this best if you want meat because of the depth of flavour it brings - use snipped-up rashers if you don't have lardons, or some chopped leftover ham or gammon.

You can finish the soup in the bowl with a teaspoon of pesto swirled through if you like (not my personal preference as I find it too overpowering) or a little grated parmesan or pecorino.
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