Winter Minestrone Soup
Winter still hasn’t really taken hold. I know this because the beer I’m storing in the shed is rarely at a drinkable temperature – it still needs an hour in the fridge. It’s January, the beer should be frozen, let alone cold enough to drink! In saying that, the evenings have been a little colder this week, so I finally feel that I can enjoy some Winter soups, stew and braises. Minestrone Soup is considered a predominately Summer dish but when made with seasonal Winter vegetables, it becomes a wholesome, nourishing and warming bowl – perfect for lunch.
Eating seasonally in Newbridge (where I live) can be difficult. As Irish towns go, it’s not the most food orientated and shopping options sit clearly with the big supermarkets. It kills me to say it but I often go to
Shelbyville Naas to find a good grocer (Swans on the Green). Even now, there are an abundance of Summer vegetables on the shelves; you would be forgiven for thinking that seasons don’t exist anymore! A quick look every so often at the Seasonality Update on the Organic Supermarket website will let you know what’s in season. Eating locally grown and seasonal food not only cuts out the vast amount of air miles caused by importing from abroad, it’s also a more nutritious way to eat, as the quicker a vegetable arrives to your plate after it’s removed from the ground, the more nutrients remain. It’s also essential to keep local farmers and food producers in business, with the prices that some supermarkets are charging for vegetables (49c for 1kg of carrots), I struggle to see how they are surviving already!
As with all soups, the stock for this Minestrone is of utmost importance – if you can’t use homemade, use a good quality cube instead, I like the Kallo Organic cubes as they contain less salt and bad stuff. If you can’t find good Italian pancetta, use streaky bacon or even prosciutto/Parma Ham. Just add a little dried oregano when you are frying to boost the flavour. The parmesan or pecorino rind is optional but I find that it adds lots of flavour. The rind of most hard Italian cheeses is edible and can be kept to add to soups, stews or stocks to add a delicious savoury flavour. Just fish it out and throw it away when finished. Finally, any small pasta can be used in this soup. I like to use broken up pieces of spaghetti as it’s always in my larder. Rice or lentils would also work well, just adjust the cooking time accordingly.
4 tbsp Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
70g Pancetta (cut into small lardons)
1 Red Onion (finely chopped)
2 Carrots (chopped)
2 stalks of Celery (finely chopped)
pinch of Dried Chilli
2 cloves of Garlic (finely chopped)
1 large Potato (cut into small cubes)
1 sprig of Rosemary
1 Bay Leaf
1.25l of Chicken Stock (hot)
1 Tin of Chopped Tomatoes
1 Tin of Cannellini Beans
pinch of Sugar
Parmesan/Pecorino Rind (optional)
100g Spaghetti (broken into small pieces)
150g Kale (de-stalked and chopped)
handful of Flat Leaf Parsley (finely chopped)
Freshly Grated Parmesan and Extra-Virgin Olive Oil to serve
Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
In a large saucepan and over a medium heat, fry the pancetta in the oil for 3 minutes before adding the onion, carrot, celery and dried chilli. Season with salt and pepper, reduce the heat to low and sweat for 10 minutes to soften.
Add the garlic, potato, rosemary and bay leaf and cook for a further 5 minutes before adding the hot stock, tomatoes, beans, sugar and cheese rind (if using). Season, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the pasta and cook for a further 5 minutes before adding the kale. Simmer for a further 10 minutes or until the pasta and vegetables are cooked. Remove the cheese rind, check for seasoning and stir in the chopped parsley.
Ladle into bowls and top with a little extra-virgin olive oil and freshly grated parmesan or pecorino.