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Soup time….Minestrone

It is getting chillier, don’t you think?  Time for soup…

I was really lucky recently, and won a set of dehydrated stocks from Essential Cuisine – a fab product I had heard of, but I had never used them before.

 

 

I am won over, they dissolve easily, have a good savoury flavour and none of that slight back flavour that some stock cubes can give.

So the first thing to do, it being Autumn and all, is to make some soup.

I love soup.  Often I’ll serve soup as an entire meal, we’ll have two maybe three bowlfuls, with bread and maybe cheese or salad to follow.   It is cheap, frugal as it uses up lots of odds and ends of vegetables that might otherwise be wasted, and warm and comforting.

Let’s have a bowl of Minestrone to start:

I make no claims as to the orthodoxy of this – but most minestra in Italy are simply big soups made from the vegetablesof the season. So feel free to adjust this as you please, depending on the time of year. For me, this soup has certain ESSENTIAL ingredients , and then OPTIONAL others that vary with what is both seasonal and hanging about in the bottom of the fridge.

It needs aromatics, root vegetables and squashes, lighter vegetables, pasta, dried beans or lentils and herbs.  It can have meat or not as you please.

Let’s take this autumn one I made this week as an example:

 

 

(I make all my soups in the pressure cooker, but you can just as easily simmer them on the hob for a couple of hours. )

a) aromatics:   ESSENTIAL:  onion, celery   OPTIONAL: leeks, shallots

b) roots and squashes:  ESSENTIAL: carrots  OPTIONAL sweet potato, butternut squash, parsnips, swede, turnips

c) meat OPTIONAL chopped pancetta, bacon, chorizo, ends of ham. This one has pancetta and chorizo.  I feel this has to be porky, if you don’t eat pork you can just leave it out. It adds a lovely depth of flavour but isn’t essential.

Chop these up, cover with water or stock (I used a litre of water and 2 teaspoons of Essential vegetable stock), a squeeze of tomato puree and OPTIONAL a can or carton of chopped tomatoes.

If you are using OPTIONAL lentils, add a handful now – puy, brown or green lentils, not the red ones which will disintegrate.

OPTIONAL Sprinkle with dried herbs to taste – I like thyme and oregano.

Simmer this for about an hour and a half, or roughly 20 minutes in the pressure cooker on high pressure. This stage is hard to overcook so a few minutes here or there won’t matter.

Add in a good handful of ESSENTIAL pasta (soup sized pasta for preference, or you can break spaghetti into small pieces), and OPTIONAL canned beans ( or dried ones which you have cooked separately beforehand), together with any quick cooking vegetables. I like to use (for me ESSENTIAL) peas, green beans (broken in half), sliced kale or spring greens but depending on what is around, you could also add OPTIONAL broad beans, runner beans, peppers, courgettes, mushrooms.. you get the idea.

Simmer this for another 10-15 minutes. This section doesn’t want to be cooked to rags, so I tend not pressure cook now, as I want to be able to check and test the tenderness of the vegetables. You are aiming at crisply cooked vegetables with the pasta fully cooked.

Serve with some extra fresh herbs sprinkled on (parsley or basil would be good) with something to soak up the delicious soupiness, home made soda bread maybe, or cheesy soda bread scones.

A meal in a bowl.