There wasn’t really anything exciting about the month of February. Bleak weather, too many televised award shows, and no one wanted to come out and play because they’re either sick for the third time this month or it was raining too hard (or a freak snowing incident in Burbank and the outskirts of Laurel Canyon) for anyone to consider getting out of PJ’s to put dance shoes on. So I was left with a little too much time on my hands, explaining to my teenage seedlings why I’ve chosen to lock them inside away from the freezing winds ::pets giant leafy stalks:: “It’s ok zucchini, you’ll see the sun again soon… just hang in there… it’s for your own good…”
I’m pretty sure they hate me.
There is, however, one thing to eat that will help fight off what’s left of winter. Shove “the big soup” in its face. Yes, minestrone—a gargantuan caldron of simmering veggies x10, pasta, beans, and lots and lots of parmigiano reggiano. This soup conquers all winter battles. It’s hearty enough to stick to your ribs, packed full of an insane amount of vitamins to ward of any pending flu and will produce SO much soup that you can live off bowls for days.
This is one of those soups that requires most of your afternoon. Perfect if you have the day free and have a busy week ahead that depends on tasty meals on the fly when you come home. There are nearly a dozen ingredients and the prep can take a bit of time. Nursing the flavor out of each element is key to its success, so don’t make this after a long day at work unless you want to eat at 10pm.
I’ve adapted the recipe from Gourmet and took the liberty of using doctored-up canned chicken broth instead of water, omitted the swiss chard stems and escarole, and added zucchini. As their recipe states, there is enough savoriness to just add water instead of broth, but I ALWAYS replace water with broth when appropriate. I didn’t have an homemade left in my freezer, so I doctored up a can from… eek, Swanson. I hate the broth by itself. It’s like a bullion cube with all the sodium sucked out of it. So I put it in a saucepan and added all necessary amendments when making chicken stock—carrot, celery & its leaves, onion, garlic, fresh parley with stems, thyme, whole peppercorn, pinch of salt and bay leaves. This took away the tinny flavor of the mass produced stock and adds a layer of herbs that resonates throughout the soup.
The other must-have? A hunky parmesan rind. It bobs about while everything simmers away and slowly melts its creamy, salty body into the depths of the broth. And you thought cheese couldn’t be sexy. Psssh.
I followed all caramelizing protocol and it became a bubbling, savory pot that blankets all chills and rids any thoughts of misery.
: Winter Minestrone :
• 4 oz pancetta, chopped
• 1 large red onion, chopped
• 4 celery ribs, chopped
• 3 medium carrots, chopped
• 1 bunch swiss chard
• 1 zucchini, chopped
• 6 garlic cloves, minced
• 2 Tbsp tomato paste
• 1 (28-oz) can whole tomatoes in juice (San Marzanos, always
• 3 qts chicken stock (or water, worst case scenario)
• 1 head Savoy cabbage, halved and sliced
• 1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
• 1 Parmigianno Reggiano rind
• 1 cup baby pasta, like farfalline or ditalini
Soup’s Best friend: slice of toasted baguette with a smear of pesto, or butter melted in its nooks-n-crannies and a heavy sprinkle of grated parm-pecorino cheese.
In a large heavy-bottom pot, heat 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and pancetta over medium heat. When pancetta begins to render out fat, add onions, carrot and celery. Sprinkle 1 tsp sea salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally to let vegetables sweat and begin to cook down.
Begin preparing chard. Remove stems (can be chopped and added to veggie mixture now or discarded) and chop leaves into strips. Cover with wet paper towel and refrigerate until needed.
Add zucchini and garlic into pot and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to stick to the bottom of the pot and have caramelized edges, about 30 minutes.
Push vegetables to one side of pot and add tomato paste. Cook paste, stirring constantly, until it begins to caramelize but not burn, then stir into vegetables and cook another 2 minutes. Add can of tomatoes and break up whole tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Add hot chicken stock and scrape up any brown bits on the bottom.
Bring to a simmer, then stir in Savoy cabbage and add the parmesan rind. Simmer, covered, until greens are tender, about 40 minutes.
Stir in chard leaves and cannellini beans, simmer an additional 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cook farfalline until al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain and toss with a little olive oil.
Remove cheese rind. Add a spoonful of pasta to a bowl, then ladle minestrone over the top. Sprinkle with a generous amount of grated parm-pecorino cheese. Serve with toasty bread. Smile.