Recipe: Winter Minestrone

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

It is not often that I hear “Oh no, this is the last bowl!” when my partner and I finally finish one of those endless pots of soup that we have been slowly carving away at, one bowl at a time, for the last week. But this one really does not disappoint.

With the winter chill creeping into those poorly insulated San Francisco apartments we all know and love/hate, what better way to fight back than with a nice warm soup?

Many people, when they hear minestrone, think of either the sad canned versions or those weak veggie soups that seem to be on every menu at mediocre restaurants.

Thinking those soups are real minestrone is like Digiorno fooling you into thinking its actually delivery. This recipe makes a real minestrone. It is hearty, flavorful, healthy and will warm you against the coming winter.

Following the recipe using the canned cannellini beans will make a great bowl of soup, but if you want an absolutely fantastic minestrone, the key is in the beans. If you can obtain fresh (still in the pod) cranberry beans, they will really make this dish come alive. If you are unable to find the cranberry beans, I would recommend upping the pancetta to a half-pound, as other alternatives are not as flavorful as the cranberry beans. Either way, I hope you enjoy. Stay warm, my friends.

Recipe adapted from Gourmet, January 2009.

1/3 -1/2 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 quarts hot water

5 cups coarsely chopped, cored Savoy cabbage (6 ounces)

5 cups coarsely chopped escarole (½ pound)

1 piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (about 3 by 1½ inches)

1 (19-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

Toppings: cooked ditalini pasta tossed with olive oil; grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Substitutions: You can use kale instead of escarole. If you can get some fresh (not dried!) cranberry beans, it uses about 1½ to 2 cups of them.

Cook the 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, setting chard leaves aside, and reserve for later. The quick way of doing this is to set the knife down, hold the chard leaf by the stem and pinch the stem at the base of the leaves and slide your hand toward the tip of the leaf. This should strip the stem clean. Stir the chard stems into the pancetta mixture with garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and three-quarters of a teaspoon of pepper, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender and begin to stick to the bottom of the pot, about 45 minutes in total.

Before you start this step, remember to heat up the 3 quarts of water (I always forget!). Push vegetables to one side of the pot. Add tomato paste to the cleared area and cook, stirring constantly, until it starts to caramelize, about 2 minutes. The paste is going to stick to the bottom and brown, but don’t let it burn. Stir paste into vegetables and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes with their juice, breaking them up with a spoon by pressing them against the side of the pot. Add hot water (3 quarts), scraping up any brown bits from the bottom.

Bring to a simmer. Stir in cabbage, escarole and parmesan rind. (If you managed to get your hands on fresh cranberry beans, add them here.) Simmer, covered, until greens are tender, about 40 minutes.

Coarsely chop chard leaves and stir into soup along with the beans. Simmer, partially covered, 10 minutes. Discard rind. Season the soup with salt and pepper. Stir in ditalini just before serving.