I think that for the most part, we Americans tend to take minestrone for granted. It’s that cup of tomato and pasta soup that you get because it sounds better than a plain iceberg lettuce salad before the giant plate of pasta arrives. No biggie, right?
Minestrone has many variations and should be appreciated for its complex layering of flavors. Additionally, as someone who gets a thrill out of cooking with what I have on hand, minestrone has an extra appeal to me: it’s historically a soup made from leftover ingredients gathered for other meals made in the week.
In my case, minestrone was the tastiest thing I could think of when looking at the vegetables given to me. That’s another reason to love minestrone– like the best of Italian foods, it capitalizes on what’s seasonal and fresh in flavor. In fact, making minestrone was practically instinctual. One look at the bunches of carrots, large fennel bulb, bunch of parsley, and most importantly, pound of long, flat Roma beans, and I instantly knew that a thick, tomato based soup, chock full of these vegetables, cannellini beans, and tiny orzo pasta was in my immediate future.
Now minestrone can be vegetarian, but it can also be made with thick pieces of smokey ham, tender shreds of beef, or in my case, wonderfully salty pancetta. With tons of fresh sage in the garden, I added this as well, figuring that the woodsy flavor would add complexity to my broth. Might I add, if you haven’t experienced it for yourself, that there are few more mesmerizing aromas in the world than the scent of sage frying with pancetta? Oh such heaven should not be missed!
I cooked the pancetta and sage, letting the fat render to add more flavor to my soup, then removed the pieces to drain on paper towels. I poured off some of the excess fat and then tossed in my onions, fennel, celery, yellow squash, and carrots, letting them gently sweat but not brown. A couple of tablespoons of tomato paste and a parmesan cheese rind added flavor and body to the soup. All that was left to do was add my chopped Roma beans and diced red potatoes, a can of white beans, and a sprinkle of orzo, then let everything simmer together in a mix of crushed tomatoes and chicken stock.
Well one other thing remained– I baked a big crusty loaf of garlic bread to serve on the side. When the soup was ready, I ladled it into bowls, gave them a heavy dousing of shaved parmesan cheese, and served it along side of a couple of slices of bread for dunking. This soup was rich and comforting, warming on the first early fall, chilly evening that we had out here. Yet it doesn’t weigh you down since it’s so full of light, vegetable flavors. Now that we’re well into fall and most places are still experiencing the joy of peak vegetable harvests, make a giant pot of minestrone and settle in for an evening of comfort.
- 1/4 pound pancetta, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices then diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
- 1 large sweet onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced (yields 1.5 teaspoons)
- 3 medium carrots, diced
- 2 large ribs of celery, diced
- 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 3 small yellow summer squash, chopped into half moons
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 6 cups chicken stock
- rind from parmesan cheese
- 1/2 pound Roma beans, chopped into 1/2 inch wide squares
- 3 medium red skin potatoes, diced
- 1/3 cup orzo pasta
- 15 oz can cannellini beans
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper
- grated parmesan cheese and chopped fresh parsley for garnish
In the bottom of a large soup pot, add the tablespoon of olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the diced pancetta and sage and cook until pancetta is crisp. Remove pancetta with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate to drain and pour off any excess fat, leaving about 2 tablespoons in the pot. Add the onion, carrots, celery, fennel, garlic, and yellow squash, stirring occasionally, reducing heat if the pancetta fat was really hot in order to avoid browning the vegetables. You want them to sweat and get tender, cooking for a total of 8-10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste so that all the vegetables are covered. Add the chicken stock and crushed tomatoes then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer before adding the cheese rind, cannellini beans, Roma beans and diced potato. Simmer for 20 minutes then add the orzo, oregano, red pepper flakes, and the reserved pancetta, then cook for an additional 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste before ladling soup into bowls, topped with a generous amount of freshly grated parmesan and chopped parsley.
CSA Count: 9
Sweet onion, fennel, yellow carrot, orange carrots, garlic, Roma beans, yellow squash, parsley, red skin potatoes
Garden Count: 1