Up recently, I had never made minestrone. My beloved went to Las Vegas for a week, supposedly under the guise of a global sales kick-off, but in reality it was just a bunch of boys boozing around the clock. A few 5am phone calls excitedly telling me he was killing it at “Jack Black” and I came to the (easily reached) conclusion that he might need something a bit nourishing upon his return. So, I set myself the task of making this much loved winter soup. I had no specific recipe in mind, just a vague idea of what I thought it should be like. Apologies therefore to any purists reading this who may not think this sounds like minestrone at all.
Minestrone means “big soup” in Italian. So big and hearty it had to be. A good start for me given my tendency to seem like I am feeding the entire street.
The obvious place to start was with the dried bean mix. The one I got from the market must have had at least a dozen varieties in it. Everything from pearl barley, chickpeas and lentils to kidney beans, black-eyes peas and lima beans could be found all plumped up after being soaked overnight. I am sure that there were beans in this mix that I had never heard of.
In the end I think I used about 300gm of dried beans, but as I am vague at best when it comes to measurements this is only a guesstimate. Dried beans, like most rice, will give you 3 times the volume cooked. So 1 cup will swell to 3 cups. Another good point to note is that the longer you soak them, the faster they will cook.
On to the cooking proper. I started with sautéing a large brown onion, two stalks of celery and a large carrot (a mirepoix if I am to flex my epicurean vernacular) all nicely and evenly diced. Once the onion was beginning to get translucent, I added some diced speck (about 100gm) and potatoes (2 large). I used Bintje but Pontiacs or other good boiling potatoes would work well.
After about 10 minutes a rough 2 tablespoons of tomato paste joined the pot along with around a cup of wine. Cook off the alcohol then throw in a tin of tomatoes, a litre of beef stock and top it up with some water. Bring to boil then reduce to a simmer and leave on stove with the lid half on for about 2 hours. I popped in the rind of a piece of reggiano for about half of this time. Every now and then I checked on the soup to make sure that there was still enough liquid and added a bit of water if there wasn’t. I was aiming to have the vegetables and beans just covered, but mindful that I would be adding other ingredients later.
The smell at this time was deep and rich and fantastic. I wanted to eat it then. But it wasn’t ready and it would have meant that my beloved may have missed out!
The soup then went into the fridge and stayed there happily until the next day when it was brought out and gently heated. Whilst it was heating I added some chopped silverbeet, diced zucchini and some small cooked pasta. I cooked the pasta separately so that it didn’t suck all the flavour out of the broth as it was cooking. I cannot remember who originally told me that tip, but it’s one I abide by.
I didn’t add any seasoning whilst I was cooking. I thought that the speck and the stock would have enough salt in them. Small grind of pepper and some fresh chopped parsley and basil on top when ready to eat, and there’s lunch! Sure to restore energy to even the most sleep deprived Vegas pleasure monger.
Sorry there’s no photo of the finished product – consumption took precedence over photography for this one.