Monday, January 08, 2007

what's your favorite soup ?

Winter weather makes you want warming comfort foods. Soup has a long history of filling this requirement for many, and I am no exception. Winter is fully here, you have many root vegetables and things, and I think "Mmmmm, having soup enrobed in a thick white cover." When others are contemplating that steaming bowl, thinking of a nice fleecey coat or blanket to snuggle up with, I'm thinking of a cauldron of soup with a sort of fleece IN it, served with a thick blanket ON it. I love this time of year, and I prefer satiating my comfort needs by wearing my sheepy products on the inside, so I make up a huge pot of minestrone.

This recipe takes a little planning, and alot of time, but the results are.........well, according to my friend and family, most excellent. After feasting on it the first day, you are usually left with upwards of 5-6 quarts of leftovers, so the time invested will either stock your freezer or make you many friends. It is also easy on the pocketbook (considering the portions) to make because it contains beans, cabbage, potatoes, celery, onions, and parsley, simmered in chicken stock, butter, olive oil and grated romano for hours, then finished with a dollop of pesto and cooked some more. Twenty minutes before serving, I ladle a few quarts into another pot and add noodles. When finished, serve with copious quantities of more romano. Doesn't now sound like the perfect time for making it?

If you are lucky enough to have a nearby farmers market, you can get most of the produce needed this time of year. If you are shopping for the ingredients at the store, it will be easy to find the ingredients any time of year. So, this weekend, while Aunty and I wandered around the saturday berkeley farmers' market, I purchased the fresh produce I needed and asked her about her thoughts on alternate beans to use in the recipe. Aunty is five years older than I, and thus the keeper of this much more familial food knowledge, so I value her opinion highly. Also, if there is anyone in the world who is capable of detecting the slightist bit of ANYTHING in a particular dish, and capable of reporting on it accurately, the person in my life like this is my sister (the monkey's aunty, thus the title). She suggested using some heirloom beans she had in her cupboard, and we agreed to a swap of ingredients for finished product.

These beans were absolutely beautiful. They looked like little spotted horses or something, which was rather hilarious to me because the recipe calls for pintos in the basic version. They need to have a bath overnight, so I soaked these as soon as they entered the house, in preparation for their big day tomorrow. This is often the hardest step to making this soup, beacause the alternate (canned) will not give you the same results. I say this now, so please listen, SOAK YOUR OWN BEANS for this dish and you will be rewarded. I tried it the "other" way once, when I was young and stupid (in college). It was an immediate culinary lesson in "good things come to those who wait." I had at least 20 years of experience eating this soup, so the "canned" version tasted like......canned. It is quite possible that if you should ignore the warning, it would still turn out to be the best canned soup you ever had.

With the beans soaked, I rinse them and place them in an 8 quart pot with about two quarts of veggie stock. Then I assemble the rest of the ingredients to look at an optical illusion that is part of this dish (the first picture up top). Everytime I see the ingredients all laid out before me I think: "I'm gonna need a much larger pot than this one, just look at all this stuff!" But I have something called faith. Faith that comes from witnessing miracles. Faith that with only an inch or so of the pot sides still showing, I can add a whole cabbage into this soup. Okay, faith really that cabbage is just like the rest of the universe, made up of alot of space. The reality is that you do not just plop in the head of cabbage. Doing this, after chopping and adding everything else, would indeed displace enough volume to slosh over the sides. But sliced up fine, minced even, and added slowly in batches, you can indeed add the entire thing.

Put the butter and olive oil into the pot with the soaked beans and stock (in this case veggie) and start boiling on the stove. Chop the onions, celery, potatoes and parsley and add. Some garlic too if you feel like it (I did, and usually do). Now, time for a medium (15 ounce) can of diced tomatoes. Yes, I did say canned. Of critical importance here is the addition of that concentrated juice, so doing this imparts that tangy acid component needed here. Note: that is a medium can being added to an 8 quart pot. This is not at all a tomato based soup, like the one most americans associate with minestrone. You can substitute fresh tomatoes, but I highly recommend doing it with garden tomatoes from your yard and making sure to use all the juice. For making it the first time, use the can of diced tomatoes to calibrate for yourself what this does to the soup. Now, with all of the veggies except the cabbage added, add grated romano. And finally, slice and dice that cabbage, and add very carefully.......

Put it on a low simmer for at least three hours. The cabbage will disappear from sight, as will most of the potatoes and celery. When this has happenned, add the pesto and cook for another hour. While waiting for this last bit, and trying not to eat it before it is done, I recommend baking a nice sourdough loaf of something. Which of course means you just have to dip the bread into the soup, to do any final tasting adjustments, right?

This last time, I baked a loaf of olive bread, with olives that were the first harvested from the monkey's tree. She has a manzanillo olive growing at G&G's down in Reedley that had a first crop of 36 olives this past fall. It wasn't many, but certainly worth experimenting with. We cured them over the last few months and I used about a dozen of them in the dough. Very, very satisfying personally, because to me sourdough and olives are a match made in heaven. With both the sourdough and the olives coming from sources I had a part in producing, I was beside myself with the combination getting me one step closer to making it from 100% family sourced ingredients. And how about the cool lines on the bread from using my new brotformen I got for being a good boy this past year? Now I can make loaves that don't just taste respectable but have a recognizable form.

Round about 6:30pm, after sampling the soup with bread several times, I put some ravioli dough trimmings into a small pot of simmering minestrone. When this was finished, I grated a large bowl of romano and settled down to the first heaping bowl. Warm, oh yeah. Nourishing, brothy veggies, grassy herbs and yummy sheepy goodness, you bet. If any of this appeals to you, then get out your pen and paper, or click and drag, copy and paste, whatever it is. As far as I'm concerned, this is the best soup I make, at the best time of year for making it (seasonable availability and reason to make something else with beans, cabbage and potatoes) and is a staple in my family that dates back at least five generations on my father's side. If I didn't share this one, and now, I could not consider this blog at all realistic in its portrayal of what we eat, because we will be eating this one for the next week.

And since folks appreciate an actual recipe, and I have a desire in keeping my new friends interested, I offer this as a generic outline for making this soup.

Minestrone
1 lb of dried pinto, pink or cranberry beans
1-3 quarts of chicken stock
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium onions (yellow or white or both)
2-6 cloves of garlic (optional here, lighter on the garlic is more great grandmas style on this one)
6 or so stalks of celery (more if using smaller heart sections)
4-5 big white potatoes (russet, red or white, yukon gold)
1 bunch italian parsley
15 ounce can of stewed or diced tomatoes (fresh tomatoes will work too but make sure to use plenty of salt and include all juices - summertime is best for using fresh)
1/4 - 1/2 lb of Pecorino Romano
1 smallish green cabbage

Pesto fixings:
1 cup chopped basil
1 Tbsp - 1/4 cup pine nuts
Parmesan
salt and olive oil to taste

Soak beans overnight. Or for two nights (especially for the harder pintos) if you have the luxury time and memory to do so. Rinse and drain soaked beans and transfer to an 8 quart pot. Add water and chicken stock until at least a third full. Adjust salt according to how much stock you use. Bring to a boil. Add olive oil and butter. Add chopped onions, celery and garlic. Peel potatoes and dice to no bigger than a fingertip and add (note: DO NOT add actual fingertips.) Mince parsley and add. Add tomatoes and any juices possible. Add about a cup of grated romano. (if you are using a Microplane this may turn out to be closer to 2 cups; the pre-grating weight is 3-5 ounces regardless of grater used.) Cut main stem from cabbage, slice very thin and add (in batches as it will be hard to incorporate at this point.) Cook together, covered with occasional stirrings, at a simmer for a few hours. Add 1/4 - 1/2 cup of fresh pesto (go with more like 1/4 cup if using store bought), stir and simmer for at least another hour. Remove one meals worth to another pot, add tagliarini (egg fettucine will work fine) and cook until pasta is soft (soup is usually getting paste-like before adding pasta, so add some water to compensate for what the cooking will take, more for dried, less for fresh.) Serve with a fresh loaf of your favorite sourdough and copious quantities of grated romano. Oh yeah, just about any wine will go great with this.

Enjoy!

Please let me know what you think if you make this one. The folks who I have given this recipe to refer to it simply as "the soup" then their eyes get glazed over as they manage a Homer-esque "Mmmmm, minestrone." If I had a dime for each individual person I have served this to and they enjoyed it, I would be a......well, at the very least 10 bucks richer, or about halfway on my way to making another batch.

4 comments:

Lis said...

Wow that does sound good! Thanks so much for sharin the recipe.. I've added it to the "To-try" list and kind of nudged it closer to the top. ;)

Callipygia said...

Hi D-man, I found you through Lis's site and am pleased to see that you live in Oakland since I lived there/Berkeley/SF for many years- (and sigh miss it greatly). The soup looks great especially with all that cheese spilling over. And yes, there is nothing like all those heirloom beans you get at the Berkeley farmers market. Nice blog!

Your Aunt Sharon said...

NICE Dylan!!! VERY nice! Aunt Sharon in Seattle LOVES your page..your little "monkey" is darling.. and YOU a good cook Sir! I'll be trying the "soup" we needs it up here.. Take care, God Bless!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Ingredients look like they could be interchanged, the time not much different. The time of adding cabbage and the sauteing of veggies must make for some differnece in appearance, I wonder how much taste difference. Be interesting to compare side by side.