Winter Minestrone Soup

I missed the bus last night. Do those 5 words make you sweat like they do for me? I scampered up to the bus stop just as the one I had intended to catch pulled away. Lucky for me, there was another one a few minutes later. But still, as I watched the tail end of the bus swerve down First Ave, I couldn’t help but get that same knot-in-my-stomach feeling as when I’d miss the bus in middle school.

Since we lived in the boonies, the bus picked us up right at the end of the driveway. Living out in the middle of nowhere had its privileges; we had the luxury of plenty of open space to see the bus coming, so we could sit in the living room and watch out the window with plenty of time to run down the driveway before the bus pulled up. It was a sweet setup for rainy or cold mornings, though it did have a tendency to make us a little too relaxed about being ready on time.

And on rare occasion, I’d miss the bus. Ug. That meant I’d have to go out into the barn to find Dad and ask him to drive me to school. He’d have to drop whatever he was doing, even if that meant he was in the middle of delivering a calf – which wasn’t all that uncommon. (If you’re reading now, Dad – Thanks, about 20 years late.)

Anyway, back to minestrone. Well, as I was standing at the bus stop on a dark Seattle winter evening, cold wind and rain laughing at my wool coat, all I wanted was a cup of hot minestrone soup. So as soon as I got home, I pulled out my biggest stock pot. If you’ve read anything at all on Seattle Palate before, you know about my soup-obsession. I think it’s the perfect meal in a pot. And when it’s done right, soup can be is one of those amazingly simple dishes where humble ingredients unite to make one surprisingly delicious plate of food.

I started making this particular version of minestrone last winter for a dinner party after I pulled the recipe out of Gourmet Magazine (RIP, Gourmet). It was a huge hit. It’s full of hearty wintergreens, and a huge bowl fills you up without producing a post-dinner Buddha belly that causes you to inconspicuously unbutton your pants. Luckily, this recipe makes a TON of soup which is a good thing because you will want to eat a huge bowl.

The truly astounding part is that this very robust, hearty soup is made with water. Not stock, but plain old water. But the trade off is that you have to be patient. Make this soup when you have time to let the individual steps really cook; it’s an easy process though that doesn’t take much babysitting. The flavor is thanks to really cooking down the soffritto of pancetta, onions, celery, chard stems, and carrots, then letting the tomato paste really caramelize before adding the water and tomatoes.

Serve the soup in big bowls with a hunk of crusty bread. Prepare a little ditalini (or other small pasta) just before serving, toss with olive oil and mix into the soup. Drizzle the soup with a little olive oil, and top with some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Oh. Yum.

One last bit of good news with this soup: it’s sort of foolproof. I made it a few weeks ago for a potluck dinner and did about three steps out of order and completely forgot the onions until really late in the game and it still turned out pretty delicious. But try to follow the recipe if you can. Enjoy!

Winter Minestrone

Click here to print this recipe
From: Gourmet, January 2009
Time to prepare: 2 hours
Serves: 10 – 12

1/3 pound sliced pancetta, chopped
3 medium red onions, chopped
4 celery ribs, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch Swiss chard
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice
3 quart hot water
5 cups coarsely chopped cored Savoy cabbage (6 ounces)
5 cups coarsely chopped escarole (1/2 pound)
1 piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (about 3 by 1 1/2 inches)
1 (19-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

Cook pancetta, onions, celery, and carrots in oil in a wide 7-to 9-quart heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, while preparing chard.

Cut out stems from chard and chop stems, reserving leaves. (Set aside chard leaves.) Stir chard stems into pancetta mixture with garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender and begin to stick to bottom of pot, about 45 minutes total.

Push vegetables to one side of pot. Add tomato paste to cleared area and cook, stirring constantly, until it starts to caramelize, about 2 minutes.

Stir paste into vegetables and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. (Paste may stick to pot, but don’t let it burn.)

Stir in tomatoes with their juice, breaking them up with a spoon, then add hot water (3 quarts), scraping up any brown bits from bottom of pot. Bring to a simmer.

Stir in cabbage, escarole, and parmesan rind. Simmer, covered, until greens are tender, about 40 minutes.

Coarsely chop chard leaves and stir into soup along with beans. Simmer, partially covered, 10 minutes.

Discard rind. Season soup with salt and pepper.

If using ditalini, stir in just before serving.

Notes:
If you’d like to add pasta, make the soup without, then cook the desired amount of pasta and add just before serving. That way the pasta doesn’t get soggy sitting in the broth for hours or days.

Since this soup is made with water instead of stock, you’re going to have to be a little more aggressive with salt and pepper seasoning than usual. Don’t be afraid to add more salt than you think – just keep tasting along the way.

Parmesan rinds are pieces of the outer edge of a big wheel of parmesan cheese. They add a wonderful nutty flavor when allowed to simmer in soups and sauces. You can usually purchase them from grocery stores with cheese counters. If you don’t see them, ask – sometimes the cheese guy will give you one or two. I know the Whole Foods by me sells them in bulk. Rind pieces keep well in the freezer and are a fantastic addition to most soups and an inch or two of parmesan rind is the secret ingredient in my red sauce!

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1 comment

  1. Kelly December 13, 2009 at 8:27 pm Reply

    This recipe looks fantastic!!! I can’t wait to try it this week!

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