Soup for a Cold Night

by Jeanne


Without doubt one of the most frequently mentioned topics these days is the weather.  No, we are not a dull and polite crowd.  It is cold in the Bay Area.  Unseasonably cold, 10-20 degrees colder.  In fact they say in Marin that on Thursday the forecast of rain with 29 degree overnight temperatures may bring, yes, light snow. What??  So what’s my answer?  Soup. Big bowls of one pot wonders to satisfy one or 12. 

And that’s exactly what a a group of us did Saturday night, gather around a big soup or as the Italians say a minestrone.  And for as many Italian mamas there are there are recipes. Loosely define it’s a hearty dish of broth with lots of ingredients  in particular pasta, beans and vegetables.  Not to confuse the definition but in Italian, there are three words for soup: zuppa, which is used in the sense of tomato soup, or fish soup; minestra, which is used in the sense of a more substantial soup such as a vegetable soup; and minestrone, which means a very substantial or large soup, though the meaning has now come to be associated with this particular dish.

The origins of the word fall from the Latin minestrare meaning to serve up or dish up.  A specialty from the Italian northwest region of Liguria there are many forms, typically with tomatoes beans, cabbage.  The beginnings of the dish are in cucina povera or rather peasant food.  As such though there is no defined recipe and why it is incredibly flexible to what you may have on hand or the time of the year.  In Italy soup is a first course.  Today given our changing diets and lifestyles many of us can easily serve this up as a complete meal, ideal given it’s one-pot easy factor.

According to several discussion boards it has been suggested, if my translation holds that another meaning of in old Italian is Grandpa’s Teeth, referring to a version that refers to yellow corn kernels floating in the soup look similar to the teeth of an old Italian man that have fallen out into the pot. 

Minestra per una Folla

Minestrone Soup for a Crowd

The potatoes in this dish add a nice creaminess to this version The secret however is a Parmesan rind that enriches the flavors. The next time I would add some corn and destemmed, chopped kale.

1 cup extra-virgin oil

1 medium leek, pale green and white parts, split, washed slicked 1/2" thick (roughly 2/3 cup)

1 small onion, cut into 1/2" pieces (1/2 cup)

2 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/2" pieces (roughly 2/3 cup)

1 russet potato, peeled and also cut into 1/2" piece (about 3/4 cup)

6 large garlic cloves, minced

4 tbspns tomato paste

1 28-oz. can tomatoes, drained, roughly chopped

5 cups vegetable stock (or chicken)

5 cups water

1 rind of Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese

4 oz. grated Parmigiana Reggiano

1 12 oz box of medium size pasta

2 14oz. cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Place 1/2 cup of the olive oil In a large stockpot over high heat.  Add the leek, onion, carrots, potato, and minced garlic.  Cook without stirring for 4 minutes. Restrain yourself the oil and veggies need to brown.  That browning creates a necessary flavor component.  Set a timer if you must. After 4 minutes reduce heat to medium and stir occasionally until the edges of the vegetables have begun to turn golden.  Reduce the heat if the vegetables seem like they will burn.  This should take about 5-6 minutes.  Add the tomato paste and cook for another 2 minutes stirring regularly.  Add the tomatoes, stock, water and cheese rind and bring to a boil over high heat. 

Simmer for 35-45  minutes.  During this time the flavors will become more concentrated. Taste for seasoning.  You may need salt.  If you feel kicky add some red pepper or a dash or three of Cajun seasoning mix. People will say they don’t like spicy but the subtle notes of red pepper really rounds out the flavor profile of this soup. At 40 minutes add the pasta and beans.  Cook the pasta per the box instructions.

To serve:  Into a soup bowl splash a bit of quality olive oil, ladle soup.  Drizzle with a generous serving of Parmesan cheese. 

Variations:  If you have pesto you can drizzle that on top of the soup instead of the cheese.

Image by Darrin Hoover