A new year brings with it resolutions with such good intentions. I for one, promise to cut out the weeknight wine, the red meat and the french fries. I come out of the gate with a bang and before I know it, it’s back to Chinese takeout and a cold beer on Tuesday night. Reality sets in and I’m again clamoring for ways to keep my meals healthy while still being easy, satisfying and tasty.
My answer? Homemade soup, and lots of it. Soup embodies my “set it and forget it” philosophy: one-pot cooking at its best. It lends itself perfectly to being made in advance, frozen and reheated. It is weekend cooking that fills my house with the aromas of comfort, and who can argue with that?
Soup is also, frankly, a perfect way to clean out the fridge. Leftovers from a farmers market binge? Mystery veggies from your CSA box hanging around? The answer is simple: minestrone. This classic Italian vegetable soup certainly has a traditional recipe, but there is endless room for interpretation, so think of it as a framework to build your own signature version around. Any of the vegetables in the recipe below can be swapped out with other favorites or seasonal picks.
Start with your aromatics and sauté them slow and low until very soft and fragrant. For me this is onions, garlic and/or leeks. Carrots and celery are next, but they need to retain some texture so let them get just tender but not soft. From here I usually go to diced potatoes, zucchini if it’s in season, white beans, cabbage and, of course, chopped tomatoes.
With all these different ingredients, it is critical—and I can’t emphasize this enough—to season your soup! With each addition, add a pinch of salt so as your soup is built, each layer has flavor. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to work on a dish like this only to taste it at the end and say “meh” because it’s bland. Salt is your friend here; it is what makes each individual ingredient shine and the end result come together as a whole.
Another secret way to perk it up at the end? A splash of vinegar. The acidity provides a nice balance to the slow-cooked veggies without being obviously tart.
Being a stock-based soup, minestrone freezes well. If you’re not cooking for a crowd, cool your soup and freeze it in small batches. You’ll be thankful when Tuesday night rolls around.
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1½ cups diced onion
- 2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, finely sliced
- 2 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes, if desired
- 2 medium carrots, cut in ½-inch dice
- 2 stalks celery, cut in ½-inch pieces
- 2 potatoes, peeled and cut in ½-inch dice
- 6 cups hot chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
- 1½ cups Savoy cabbage, thinly sliced
- 1½ cups zucchini, cut in ½-inch dice (if in season)
- 2 cups cooked cannellini beans, or other beans
- 1 teaspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar, as needed
- In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Stir in the onion, leeks and garlic together with a pinch each of salt and pepper and the red pepper flakes, if using. Cook until the vegetables are lightly browned and very soft, 8–10 minutes. Add the carrots and celery with a pinch of salt and continue to cook until just tender, 4–5 minutes more. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, 2–3 minutes more.
- Stir in the stock, tomatoes and a pinch each of salt and pepper and cook until all the vegetables are tender, about 1 hour. Add the cabbage, zucchini and beans. Cook until cabbage and zucchini are just tender with a bit of a bite, 4–6 minutes more.
- Taste the soup and season as needed with additional salt, pepper and/or vinegar. Serve the soup in warm bowls drizzled with more olive oil, a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese or even a spoonful of good-quality pesto.
Minestrone: One Pot Perfection was published in the Winter 2016 issue. © 2016 Edible San Francisco.