Monday, October 22, 2012

Minestrone with Fresh Beans

Bowl of Classic Minestrone
Warming, Healthful, and Italian!

Recipe by Robin

What’s the #1 way to use up lots of veggies from your CSA when nights are cool? That’s right: a hearty, warming soup. One of the keys to good soup is tasty broth. Onion, celery, and carrots, added at the beginning of the cooking time, make a savory broth base. Or use leeks and shallots instead of all or part of the onion. To fully develop their flavor, sauté these veggies before adding liquid to make the soup. Late season tomatoes, added after the broth has developed a bit, turn the broth in a decidedly Italian direction, especially when paired with garlic and dried oregano, basil, and marjoram. Almost any veggie can be “souped,” but be aware that cruciferous veggies like broccoli or kale will tend to dominate the soup’s flavor. Combining milder veggies like squash, potatoes, and green beans with them mellows the blend, as does pasta, rice, or beans. Greens such as spinach, parsley, or leftover basil add freshness and texture to your creation.

Basket of celery, carrots, onion, garlic, beans, zucchini, herbs, parsley, spinach
Colorful and Savory Ingredients
According to Dirty Girl Produce, growers of many types of fine organic beans: Tongue of Fire beans, a variety of cranberry bean, are the classic bean for minestrone. These beans look surprisingly similar to the  beans in one of my most popular posts Cooking Fresh Pinto Beans. According to, cranberry beans, Tongue of Fire beans and pinto beans are related and can be used interchangeably. If you can’t find any of these fresh, try cannellini, Great Northern, or chili beans. Any beans that you can purchase fresh will taste better than dried, but dried, speed-soaked beans will do in a pinch. Adjust the recipe to accommodate the time your particular bean needs to cook. My instructions and timing will work for fresh cranberry or pinto beans.

Chopped tomatoes, measured beans, and measured tomato paste and herbs
Prepare Ingredients for Each Step
One key to successful minestrone is to cook the beans and pasta perfectly without overcooking the green veggies. Knowing that zucchini should cook about 10 minutes and spinach about 5, work backwards from your projected serving time to know when to add your beans and pasta. Fresh cranberry or pinto beans, for which I’ve written the recipe, require 1 – 1 ¼ hours to cook. Check your bean’s cook time and make your calculations. The bulk pasta that I use requires 10 minutes to cook. Check your pasta’s timing and calculate when to add it.

Hand Adding Measured Pasta to Boiling Soup
Boil Soup Hard Before Adding Pasta
The second key to successful minestrone is cooking the pasta so that the broth doesn’t get starchy. The soup must be at a rapid boil to quickly seal the surface of the pasta when it is added to the soup. Return the soup to a rapid boil and stir the soup to distribute the swelling pasta before adding other ingredients, such as zucchini.

Broth with Carrots, Onion, Celery, Tomatoes, Tomato Paste, and Bay
Making a Flavorful Soup Base
Vary the ingredients and quantities based upon what’s on hand, if you like. Canned tomatoes, fresh herbs, and other greens like arugula or chard leaves are possible substitutions. Note that recipe makes a large quantity. Try freezing some for those dark winter nights when you’d rather snuggle in than cook. You’ll appreciate the fresh garden tomato flavor as well as the convenience.

Zucchini added to soup pot
Add Zucchini to Rapidly Boiling Soup & Pasta
Classic Minestrone
serves about 12

2 tbsp. olive oil
1½ cup chopped onion (1 large or two small)
2 cups chopped leeks, white and green parts (2 medium)
1½ cups chopped celery (~ ½ bunch)
¼ cup finely chopped shallots (1)
1 tbsp. minced garlic (~4 cloves)
2 cups carrots, sliced (~4 medium)
8 cups broth or bouillon
2 – 3 bay leaves (depending on size)
1½ lbs. garden tomatoes
1 cup fresh cranberry or pinto beans
2 tsp. tomato paste or puree
1½ tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
½ tsp. dried marjoram
2 cups broth or bouillon
1 cup pasta shells (organic semolina)
1¼ lb. zucchini (2 - 3), sliced into ¼ inch half moons
¼ lb. spinach, torn (½ - 1 bunch)
½ cup coarsely chopped parsley
Fresh basil or parsley sprigs (optional garnish)

In a deep soup pot, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Sauté onion, leeks, celery, and shallots until onions are golden and limp, stirring frequently. This will take about 5 minutes.

Stir in garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add carrots and stir to coat with oil, sautéing another minute or so.

Add 8 cups broth or bouillon and bay leaves. Cover and bring to boil over high heat. Turn heat to medium low and simmer about 15 minutes, until carrots are partially soft.

Add tomatoes, beans, tomato paste, oregano, basil, and marjoram. Cover and bring to boil, then simmer for 45 minutes.

Add 2 cups of broth or bouillon. Bring to rapid boil over high heat (this ensures that broth won’t get starchy). Stir in pasta shells. Bring back to rapid boil, then stir in zucchini.

Cover and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring once or twice to distribute pasta as it cooks.

Stir in spinach and parsley. Cover and bring to simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve soup garnished with fresh basil or parsley, if desired.

Full Bowl of Minestrone
Plenty for Family and Friends

1 comment: