Sunday, April 15, 2012

Minestrone Soup and a Brilliant Tip

Today is Sunday, and I made minestrone soup even though technically minestrone soup should be reserved for Thursdays.  I was inspired by a blog post from Willowood Farm listing what they were bringing to market yesterday.  I decided I needed some of their kale, which I have never purchased nor cooked with before.  (I can now cross 'cooked with kale' off my bucket list.)  I had been thinking about minestrone soup, and I know that many recipes for it call for kale, so I figured I'd give that a go.  The kale was soooo pretty.  I think I'll plant some this year among the flowers.  I think this variety may be winter red kale, although some of the pieces looked like rainbow lacinato kale. The variety of the textures and colors is what makes it so pretty.

To be honest, I don't like the taste of plain raw kale.  I only bought it because I like to support our local farmers and our markets, it makes me feel like I'm eating healthier, and it's soooo pretty!

I also picked up some leeks which looked good, as well as some of their limelight beans.  I've not tried this particular variety, but I've had their Rockwell beans and those are excellent.  Really excellent.  If you live somewhere you can buy these (anywhere that you can get to Whidbey and home again within 12 hours is close enough), rush out to get some and make the recipe on the package.  But be prepared to be spoiled for life as you'll never eat processed canned baked beans again without wishing you were eating Georgie's Rockwells instead.

As I was growing up, we had a restaurant in our town called Shadows.  Every night of the week they sold a different soup, which my mom often bought as take-out.  Thursday night was Minestrone, and that was my favorite. (Thursday is one of  my favorite days of the week, and I think it may be because it was Minestrone Soup Night, although it may be because it's also Grey's Anatomy Night and also used to be Bones Night until just recently.  All I know is I really do like Thursdays.)  Shadows clearly used the same base in all their soups, and this minestrone was unlike any I've ever had.  I've been searching for the recipe online ever since the invention of the internet, but alas, have never come across anything even remotely similar.

What stands out in my memory, other than the thickness of the soup, was that it was brown, tasted strongly of Parmesan cheese as in the stuff from the green can, and had really great-tasting white beans.  I believe it also had some very small shell type pasta.  I'm a big believer in using what's already in the pantry, so I was going to use egg noodles and break them up, but at the last minute, I discovered I did have the exact right amount of small shell pasta, so ended up using that. It obviously was meant to be!

Guess what!  Fake Parmesan cheese no longer comes in a green cardboard can!  When you pull off the plastic around the top, the entire label comes off.  I don't know about you, but I'd rather have my food come in cardboard packaging than plastic.

And although I really try not to use processed foods (in fact, I'm on a quest to get all packaged processed food out of our pantry), I sent Jim to the store for a can of the green stuff.  And I'll freely admit to loving the taste of it.  Especially on spaghetti.  But let's get back to the minestrone.

What I really wanted to duplicate was the flavor and thickness of the base.  The rest of what went in there was not so important to me.  I don't remember potatoes as being in Shadows' minestrone, but as potatoes are a great thickener, I decided to make up a base using the beans and potatoes, along with tomatoes, carrots, and the leeks, and then puree some of it to put back in as a thickener and see where it got me.  I would add the kale and pasta at the end.  And I might add some cream, although I was trying to make this lactose-free, except for the cheese.  Although really, how much lactose is in fake cheese?  I would also add in fresh herbs to give an extra layer of flavor beyond what the dried herbs provide.  And because I have fresh herbs growing in pots outside our kitchen door and I feel so farm-girl cutting and using home-grown herbs.

So here's what I did:

I washed all the produce.  We always buy organic produce and I wash it all using produce wash solution purchased at the grocery store.  I used my Cuisinart to chop everything, and it was chopped quite small.

I chopped the onion and sauteed it in the butter to soften.  While the onion was cooking, I chopped the celery, then added that to the onion.  While that was cooking further, I chopped the green pepper, then added that to the pot.  Finally, I chopped the leek (whites and very light green part only) and added that.  Cooked it all for another couple minutes and then added the beef broth, beans, chopped potato, chopped carrots, whole tomatoes and tomato paste.  Now it's the exact brown color I wanted!  I'm feeling very encouraged.  In a farm-girl sort of way.

 And here's a very useful tip about canned tomato paste.  I used to hate trying to get every last bit out of the can with a rubber spatula. Then I hit upon a great idea.  I use a can opener to cut through the lids from both ends of the can.   I remove the lid from one end.  Then I use the other lid to push the paste out of the can into my pot.  It gets almost every last speck out.  What's that you say?  You've been doing this for years?   I don't want to hear it.  It was MY idea and it only took me half a decade to come up with it.  It's brilliant, don't you think!?!?!?!  I wish I could patent this idea and retire to a life of cooking and blogging.  And shopping.

 I added the garlic and dried spices, plopped on the lid, and put it in the simmering oven for an hour and half.  Then I made an espresso drink and sat down to work on this blog, play spider solitaire and watch Hulu.  Don't you just LOVE Hulu?  I do.  Our kids got us Roku for Christmas, and now we can watch Hulu on the big tv screen.  Why anyone bothers to pay for satellite or cable service is beyond me.

I also whipped up some bread because I had a super easy recipe for baguettes I wanted to try out, and everyone knows that soup needs bread to go with.

After the hour and a half, I took out a portion of the soup and used my immersion blender to puree it until it was smooth and thick.  Then I put that back into the soup pot.  During the cooking time, it had gotten a little more red in color than the brown I was going for, but let's face it--taste is more important than color and it was tasting pretty darn good.  I added in the rest of the stuff I wanted in there, including a small amount of red wine because--guess what--I had some I needed to use up!  And because the soup was so thick, it could stand with a little thinning out.  Then I put it back into the simmering oven for another half hour or so.

The soup was super thick and hearty and didn't really need any cream, but I felt I had to try out a small amount with cream, so I made a separate little bowl and added in a small amount of heavy cream.  It thinned it out just enough and brought the color back to what I was going for.  Adding in even more of the fake Parmesan got me the flavor I wanted.  Success!  Possibly using freshly grated Parmesan and adding salt to the recipe would get a similar result, but I didn't want to take any chances. 

Here's the exact recipe:

Almost Shadows Minestrone Soup

4 tablespoons butter
1/2 onion, chopped
5 ribs celery, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 bunch leeks, chopped*
1 qt carton beef broth**
1 14.5 oz can whole peeled tomato***
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 potato, chopped
3-9 cloves of garlic, depending on size and your taste preference****
50 carrots*****
1 tablespoon dried parsley (trying to use this up or I would not have put it in there)
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon ground oregano (also something  I'm trying to use up...husband bought by mistake)
3 bay leaves
1 zucchini, chopped or sliced
1/2 bunch (2 - 3 cups) kale (or more), cut or torn into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (or more, to taste), either fresh shredded or the 'green can'
 8 oz uncooked pasta
1 tablespoon or more fresh oregano
1 tablespoon or more fresh marjoram
1 tablespoon or more rosemary
1/4 cup fresh parsley (I used cilantro cuz I had some I needed to use up)
1/3 cup red wine

*I got  my leeks at the farmer's market, and it's early spring, so they were small.  I used only the whites and light green parts.  There was maybe 1/2 cup worth after being chopped quite small.  If you don't want to use leeks, just use more regular onion.

**You could use veggie broth or chicken broth.  You could also use bouillon cubes and make your own broth.  Or you could use water, but then you might want to add meat to this soup to give it added flavor.  I think sausage would be very good in this soup.  I'm a big believer in using what you have on hand.  The more you use what you already have, the faster you go through things and so the fresher your ingredients are.  Ideally you would use homemade broth you had in your freezer, which I do have, but there's that pesky quest I'm on...

***Again, I just happened to have a can of this I wanted to use up.  If I was buying specifically for this soup, I would probably get diced tomatoes.  Or if I was lucky enough to live somewhere I could get fresh tomatoes that actually tasted like tomatoes are supposed to taste, I would definitely use those.  But here in the PNW, we make do.  And most of us have forgotten what real tomatoes even taste like.

****Our garlic is from last summer's harvest and is all over the map as far as size.  We save the big cloves to replant, so all I ever have on hand are small and medium-ish sized garlic.  I used 4 small cloves and 3 medium-largish cloves.  It came out to about 3 garlic-press-fuls.  I love garlic and never can get too much.  I always get bored peeling the garlic way before I get to the point of thinking I have enough in the recipe.  Once I bought a jar of the pre-mushed garlic.  Very dangerous as you can so easily keep adding spoonful after spoonful.  It's really best to stick with the kind you have to manually peel and press/chop yourself.

*****Before you fall off your chair reading 50 carrots, these are very small.  The package says "Earthbound Farm Organic Mini Peeled Carrots" on it, and mini they are.  They are varying sizes and some are mini mini.  I just counted out 50 and it looked about right, seemed like a nice round number, and in they went.  I really like carrots in soup.  You decide how much you like carrots in soup and add accordingly.

Melt the butter in a large soup pot.  Saute the onions for about 4 or 5 minutes.  Add in the celery and saute another couple minutes.   Add in the green pepper and saute another couple minutes.  Finally, add in the leeks and saute one or two more minutes.

Pour in the broth.  Then add in the tomato products, the potato, garlic, carrots, and dried spices.  Bring to a low boil and then set either in a simmering oven or on a simmering burner for 1-1/2 hours.

Remove the 3 bay leaves and discard.  Take out about 3 cups of the soup and blend it either with an immersion blender, a regular blender, or a food processor.  Be careful because when mixing hot liquids at high speeds, you can have an 'explosion.'  You might get burned, and you'll most definitely have a big mess to clean up.  After it's pureed, put it back into your soup.  The soup should now be pretty thick.  Add in all the rest of the ingredients except the pepper and additional cheese, and return to the oven or simmering burner for another 30 to 45 minutes.

To serve, grind some pepper over the soup, pass additional Parmesan cheese, and enjoy with homemade bread and a glass of wine!

This made a nice-size pot of soup.  The pot is a 5 liter size and was about three-quarters filled with soup.  It would definitely feed a family of four or five, and you'd likely have leftovers.

If you want to make extra to freeze, freeze it after the initial hour and a half and then add in the remaining ingredients on the day you are serving.  I find that pasta in soups becomes very mushy when freezing and reheating.

The recipe for the baguettes can be found at The Sisters Café, where you can find loads of other yummy recipes as well.

1 comment: said...

I want to live at your house! That looks awesome, and I totally would not have taken all that time to make it. I love soup.
I also love kale, especially in smoothies. You can make the best green smoothie with kale, lime juice, and fruit of just about any color except red. Using strawberries, for instance, makes the smoothie brown, which doesn't do much for me. I have to close my eyes to drink it. But pineapple, mango, lime, a little coconut milk, and kale = yum!