It's been a tough few weeks. I live in NYC and we had super storm Sandy rock my city and devastate neighboring boroughs, like Staten Island and Queens. In Manhattan, it was a tale of two cities. Below 39th street, the entire city lost power. Pitch black and deserted, I felt like I was living in that Will Smith movie, I Am Legend. Admittedly I was scared and a bit shell-shocked. Above 39th street the power remained in tact. Friends remarked how those who lived uptown were a bit oblivious to the severity of the conditions in NYC. They went about their day as if nothing was wrong. I was lucky enough to have power restored after five short days. But there are many who still don't have power at the minimum, and many who lost their homes and life possessions. I saw many Facebook posts from friends who were eating their faces off, turning to comfort food. During that week I ate chocolate chip cookies, grilled cheese sandwiches with cream of tomato soup and endless french fries. When I finally got back to my apartment, I cleaned out everything in my fridge and went straight to Whole Foods to restock.
The weather had turned cold in the city so a pot of hot soup would be perfect. I decided to make a minestrone, a traditional Italian soup made with veggies and red kidney beans. Pancetta adds a nice smokiness but I only had bacon on hand so that was a perfectly fine substitute. A rind of Parmigiano Reggiano provide an extra depth of flavor, giving the minestrone a nice and hearty taste.
I learned how to make this soup when I visited Italy three years ago. I was invited to dinner at a friend's home in Rome. Their home was beautiful, old, warm and inviting. It also looked like a Roman palace so it was so exciting to be there. I felt like I was in a movie. In the kitchen was a large piece of ham prosciutto the size of a leg. A sharp knife kept right below allowed you to cut thin slices any time you wanted a snack and it was a the best I've ever tasted.
The host made a minestrone for dinner and while it was so simple, it was absolutely delicious. I've adapted it by adding whatever veggies I have on hand, but have come to like this particular combination. Here's what you'll need:
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 red onion diced
2 garlic cloves minced
1/4 cup of diced pancetta or 3-4 strips of bacon
1 small can of organic red kidney beans
1 large parsnip or 2 small ones, peeled and diced
2 small carrots, peeled and diced
1 small yellow squash diced
1 small zucchini diced
2 teaspoons of dried oregano
1 rind from a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
4 cups of organic, low-sodium chicken broth
Start by heating a large dutch oven and add the pancetta or bacon. Cook until golden brown and remove and drain over a paper towel. Leaving in the bacon/pancetta fat in the dutch oven, add the garlic and onion. This is where you'll start to build the flavor of the soup. Season with pepper, no salt is needed at this point because there's salt in the fat. Being careful not to burn the garlic and onion mixture, stir frequently until it turns golden.
Next add the veggies but start with the ones that will take longer to cook, like the parsnips and carrots. Add them in small batches and sautee with the onion and garlic. Season with a little salt and pepper after you add each layer of veggies. Let the parsnips and carrots cook about 4-5 minutes before adding the zucchini and squash.
Open the kidney beans and rinse under cold water. Add them to the dutch oven and stir to combine. Then add the chicken broth, cheese rind, dried oregano and season with salt and pepper. Cover and bring the soup to a boil.
Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes, keeping the lid on the pot. The reason why is because you want the liquid as it cooks to return back into the soup, you don't want to reduce it like you would a tomato sauce. That's when you'd cook it uncovered.
Once the soup is finished cooking, I like to thicken it up a bit by pureeing about 1/4 of it in a blender. I try and take out the red beans from each ladle I put in the blender but that's just a personal preference. Add the pureed soup back into the dutch oven and then the cooked pancetta or bacon that was set aside earlier. But make sure to remove the cheese rind before pureeing and throw it away. This soup makes about four servings. Buon appetito!