It was inevitable that I made a big pot of minestrone soup this week. First, the cold November wind started to blow. Then, I felt the overwhelming need to eat something besides pancakes and pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and my kids' Halloween candy (shhhh).
This was the day that I found a mysterious box of freshly-dug potatoes on my front porch. No note, just beautiful russet potatoes that smelled of the dirt that was clinging to them. Not knowing anyone who grows potatoes, I was intrigued. After a bit of investigation, I found that I was not alone. Other anonymous boxes of fresh and dirty potatoes had mysteriously appeared at other houses. Hmmmm.
Clearly I had to do something with this gift. Rummaging through the fridge and pantry I found: one small hunk of guanciale, one Parmesan rind (I hoard the nubs leftover from grating Parmesan in the freezer for soups), a small zucchini, carrots, cannelini beans, some orzo, and a can of San Marzano tomatoes.
It felt so much like November this week that I had to hang up a wreath.
This wreath is made entirely of star anise. I found it at Target, and it makes my porch smell like chai tea.
I have been making this soup for so long, and have gifted it so often to sick friends, new parents, and deserving teachers, that it has been dubbed Annie's Minestrone Soup. Which is not to say you shouldn't adapt it to what you have lying around the larder, and make it your own. Hopefully, you have at least one really good russet potato, mysterious or not, to make this soup satisfyingly filling.
If you happen to be using dried cannellini beans for the minestrone, then you will want to soak them for a few hours or overnight in cold water. While you're at it, soak a few more cups of beans and make Cannellini Beans with Garlic and Sage. It's so easy, and when you run out of minestrone soup, you can puree the cannellini beans in their rich broth for another November-loving soup.
Simmer 2 cups cannellini beans in a crockpot with 4 cloves of garlic, chicken broth to cover and a handful of sage. Simmer on low for 2-3-4 hours, until the beans are done. Add 2 teaspoons Kosher salt, a glug of olive oil and serve.
I should explain my habit of hoarding Parmesan rinds in the freezer. If you go to the trouble to purchase authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano imported from Italy, please don't throw the rind away when the cheese is gone. Save the rinds in the fridge or the freezer, and use them as a secret ingredient to soups, stews, and risottos. As you'll find with this minestrone soup recipe, the rind will soften and melt into the broth, adding flavor and depth to the soup.
Imported Italian San Marzano tomatoes and a nub of Parmesan rind make this soup especially good.
For a printable version of the recipe, click on the file below it.
Annie's Minestrone Soup
This makes enough soup to serve 4 for lunch, then 4 for dinner, with some more to give to a friend, and another few cups to stash away in the freezer for another day.
- 1 cup dried white beans, such as cannellini, rinsed and soaked in cold water for a few hours or overnight; or 1 cup canned cannellini beans, rinsed
- 2 ounces guanciale or pancetta, minced (about 1/2 cup)
- 2-4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 leeks, white part only, finely diced
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
- 1 small zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch dice
- 4 ribs of celery, cut into 1/2 inch dice
- 1 russet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
- 8 cups chicken broth
- 1 28 oz can whole plum tomatoes, with their juice (dice or leave whole)
- 1 Parmesan rind, leftover from a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1/4 cup small pasta, such as orzo, acini de pepe, stars or alphabets
- 1 cup shredded green cabbage, or 2 cups slivered fresh spinach, Swiss chard or kale (with the woody ribs removed)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Freshly ground Parmesan, for serving
- 2 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
Guanciale is cured pigs' jowls. It can be found at a good butcher shop, such as Aspens Market, where they make it themselves.
- If you are using fresh cannellini beans and have been soaking them, rinse them and set aside.
- In a large heavy saucepan on medium-high heat, cover the bottom of the pan with 2-4 Tablespoons of olive oil.
- Once the olive oil is shimmering, add the minced guanciale, and sauté for 2 minutes, or until the fat starts to melt. Add the leeks, carrots, celery, and potato, and sauté for 3-4 more minutes, stirring frequently so that the vegetables are coated with oil and starting to brown.
- If you are using fresh beans, add them to the pot. If you are using green cabbage, add that to the pot too.
- Add the chicken broth, Parmesan rind, and the whole can of tomatoes with its juice. (If you prefer not to have chunks of tomato in the soup, use kitchen shears to chop up the tomatoes while still in the can, or puree briefly with an immersion blender).
- Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer (gently bubbling) and cook for 1-1 1/2 hours, or until the beans are tender.
- Taste the soup and add salt and pepper to your liking. I used one Tablespoon of Kosher salt and a few turns of the pepper grinder.
- If you are using canned beans, add them now, along with 1/4 cup of the small pasta. Heat gently, stirring frequently, and add more water or broth if it's getting too thick.
- When the pasta is done, toss in the fresh greens and the fresh thyme. Heat for a few more minutes. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
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Cannellini Beans with Garlic and Sage
Buy good quality dried cannellini beans for this bean stew. If the beans are stale, they will take forever to cook, and won't have that tender bite.
- 2 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked for a few hours or overnight in cold water, and then drained and rinsed
- 4 cups or more of chicken broth (enough to cover the beans in the pot by at least one inch
- 4-5 large cloves of garlic
- one handful of fresh sage leaves (about 8-10)
- 2 teaspoons of Kosher salt
- 2-3 Tablespoons of good fruity olive oil
- Take the soaked, drained and rinsed beans and put them in a large heavy saucepan, or a slow-cooker.
- Cover with enough chicken broth so that the beans are covered by at least one inch.
- Throw in the garlic and the sage, and bring to a gentle simmer.
- Cook over low heat (gently bubbling) for 2-4 hours, checking frequently to make sure the beans are covered by the broth.
- Start checking for doneness after 2 hours. Once the beans are tender, add the salt (start with 2 teaspoons, and increase as needed) and cook for another 10 minutes.
- Mash the garlic cloves against the side of the pan and stir back into the broth.
- Remove from the heat and drizzle with olive oil.
- Serve as an antipasto, warm or at room temperature. Toss cold into salads. Mash slightly and smear on toasted baguette slices, drizzled with olive oil. Toss a cupful of beans and broth with hot pasta and diced fresh tomatoes. Puree beans and broth and reheat for a simple soup, topped with croutons, freshly grated Parmesan, and freshly ground pepper.
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Culinary word of the day: Guanciale (gwahn-CHAY-lay)
Guanciale is a cured meat taken from the jowl of a pig. Literally translated from the Italian word for "pillow", it takes its name from the "guancia" or cheek of the pig. The meat is cured for a month in salt, pepper, chili powder and sometimes sugar, then hung and aged for another month. Pancetta can be substituted for guanciale. The butchers at the Aspens Market in Jackson make their own peppery version of guanciale, which is perfect for this soup.
from The Deluxe Food Lovers' Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst