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Pesto to the Rescue – Hearty Minestrone

By October 14, 2012Food

I’ve always passed minestrone by, until someone told me about the pesto.  Now I am addicted!

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Minestrone is a hearty vegetable soup from the Romagna, of which Marcella Hazan, author of The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking,  says, “very little is put into the minestrone beyond a variety of seasonal vegetables, whose separate characteristics give way and intermingle through very slow cooking in broth.  The result is a soup of mellow, dense flavor that recalls no vegetable in particular but all of them at once.”

I don’t know what it is about minestrone that always made me pass it over on menus or in the tinned soup aisle at the supermarket.  Somehow, it was never appealing to me, until my friend Susan served it this summer as part of a wonderful meal she made from her farmers market share.  Bursting with fresh flavors, the soup was already set to win me over, but what really converted me to minestrone was the fresh pesto Susan served with it.  I’m a big pesto fan, as is the entire Moscovore family, and that infusion of flavor turned a good vegetable soup into a great dish!

Minestrone Recipes:

With plum tomatoes, zucchini, and carrots at their peak, autumn is the perfect time to try some minestrone.  I turned to my cookbook collection for technique and interpretation.   Marcella Hazan, ever my first stop for all things Italian, reminded me to cook the vegetables in order of their water content, which makes for a more balanced texture.   The geniuses at Cook’s Illustrated in their authoritative Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook suggested the pancetta, which gives the soup a wonderful underpinning of flavor.  Pancetta is available in the more upscale supermarkets of Moscow, but don’t stress if you can’t find it – a good quality bacon will do just as well.   The Cook’s Illustrated recipe also makes the point that the starch from the cannellini beans helps to thicken the soup, rescuing it from being too thin and watery.  They recommend using dried beans and rehydrating them, but I found that tinned beans and their liquid addressed the problem adequately.   The addition of the pasta is my own, and can certainly be eliminated.   To make this soup vegetarian, substitute vegetable stock for chicken stock and don’t add the pancetta.

You can make and store both the pesto and the soup for up to 5 days in the fridge, but I recommend storing them separately so that you can add the pesto just at the moment you serve the soup for maximum impact.  The soup freezes adequately.  If you want to make a large batch to freeze, I recommend making it up to the addition of the beans and pasta and then finish the soup when you de-frost it.

Hearty Minestrone

Ingredients

  • 1 tin white cannellini beans
  • 110 gm (4 oz) pancetta or bacon
  • 15 ml (1 Tbl) olive oil
  • 2 ribs celery
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 large yellow onions
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 pinch coarse sea salt
  • 500 gm (1 lb) plum tomatoes
  • 5 ml (1 tsp) sugar
  • 1 liter (1 quart) chicken broth
  • 250 ml (1 cup) small shaped pasta
  • 1 Parmesan Rind
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 thin slice fresh ground black pepper

For the Pesto

  • 15 ml (1 Tbl) pine nuts
  • 1 bunch fresh green basil
  • 60 ml (1/4-cup) best quality olive oil
  • 5 ml (1 tsp) salt

Directions

  • Place the tomatoes in a saucepan with the sugar and cook for 15 minutes until the tomatoes begin to loose their shape. Puree the mixture in a food processor fitted with a steel blade or with a hand-held mixer. Set aside.
  • Heat the olive oil and pancetta in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or soup pot. Stir frequently while the pancetta browns and begins to render grease.
  • Add the garlic and onions and sauté until the onions begin to soften. Add the carrots and cook for 2 minutes, then the pepper, cook for 1 minute. Add the celery and cook for 1 minute, then the zucchini, and cook for 5-8 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the pinch of salt and cook for an additional minute.
  • Add the tomato mixture, the Parmesan rind, the bay leaf, the pepper, and the stock to the vegetables and stir to combine. Cook, covered for 45 minutes.
  • Add the tin of beans, with their liquid. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat, cover, and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Add the pasta and cook for 10 minutes until the pasta cooked.
  • Toast the pine nuts in a saucepan until they are lightly browned, then combine the pine nuts, basil, salt and oil in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Combine until smooth.
  • Serve the minestrone with a spoonful of fresh pesto on top.

 

 

Dear Readers:

Are you a minestrone fan?  A pesto fan?  Are you already missing the plum tomatoes?

Did you try this recipe?  Weigh in by rating this recipe on the Moscovore Matriyoshka scale and leave your comments below!

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