Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Day 302 - Vegetable Stock and Minestrone

Happy New Year! (I know, it's a bit late, but I've been away.)

I'm now back from my amazing vacation in Spain with Tracy. It was an Art and Architecture Extravaganza, and all I can say is, if you're interested in either of those things, then you absolutely MUST visit the Gaudí buildings in Barcelona and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao ASAP.

As for the food? Meh. I'm happy to be home and cooking from the book again.

Marcy's here tonight, and I'm making something healthy and wholesome....

Vegetable Stock (p. 56)

Well, this is a whole lot easier than all those other stocks!

This one starts with the usual vegetable suspects (onions, carrots, celery), although I'm curious about the use of onion here. Half of the onion is chopped and sautéed, the other half is left whole. Anyone know why that would be?

Then, instead of meat or chicken, there are a ton of fresh herbs added. So not only is it easier, it's also faster.

However, the flavor isn't nearly as complex as a chicken or beef stock, so there's the trade off.

Still, it's going to provide some nice body in this vegetable soup that's coming up. I'll have a quart left over for freezing. What should I use it for? Hmmm....

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Minestrone (p. 57)

I've been a little dismissive of minestrone through the years. I've written it off as a tomato soup, which is not my favorite soup base, but in fact, there's very little tomato involved! In the scheme of things, the tomatoes are but a fraction of the multitudes of vegetables that occupy this interpretation of minestrone.

I should mention right up front - this soup took me longer to make than I expected from reading the recipe. I got waaaay behind schedule, keeping Marcy sitting there for over an hour as the soup simmered. All that slicing and dicing and mincing adds up. (I've come to dread the word "minced.")

Also, don't forget (like I did) that the dried cannellini beans need to soak for 8-12 hours/overnight. I remembered just in the nick of time this morning.

I tried to get prosciutto ends for the soup, but the deli guys at Fairway said they don't deal in ends. So I bought a thick slice of prosciutto, because I love that flavor and I wanted it in there.

First you cook the soaked beans in water with onion, some prosciutto, and a bay leaf. Don't forget to reserve the cooking water! It gets added to the soup later! (That would be just like me to throw it out, but I actually remembered!)

Then, the cooking of the soup, proper, starts with a soffrito, aka mirepoix, aka onions, carrots, and celery. All minced. Argh.

Martha says to cook this over medium-low heat for 20-25 minutes, until it's deep golden brown, but I have to confess: mine went for 30 minutes and never browned. Eventually, I just had to move on and add the leeks and garlic. Then, when I added the celery, carrots, potato, zucchini and green beans and turned the heat up, things started getting "golden."

As I added the liquids and the rest of the vegetables, I started thinking I might not be able to fit everything in one pot! Martha says to use a "large stockpot," and I assumed that my 5.5 quart dutch oven would be sufficient, but it was verging on bubbling over the sides. I'd recommend using at least a 6 quart pot for this one.

After an hour of simmering, the cannellini beans go back in, and then it's another 20-30 minutes before it's all done.

Since I had added the optional prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds, I decided to skip the optional pesto and grated Parmigiano topping and serve it straight.

It's a great soup to look at - lots of colors and textures, everything from the almost-black kale to the occasional red pop of a tomato to the white potato and beans.

The taste was surprising. When hot, I was very aware of the spiciness of the red pepper flakes, even though there was only a 1/4 teaspoon added. Then, as the soup cooled, I was struck by the sweetness that dominated. Was it the carrots? The onion? In any case, it was delicious.

Marcy questioned the absence of pasta. According to Martha, both pasta and rice are common ingredients in minestrone, but she didn't choose to include them here. I like it without pasta. I don't think it needs the extra weight. I'd rather eat a piece of bread, anyway.

This is truly a one-pot meal. All those vegetables and the beans make for a very hearty and complete eating experience. Only thing missing was that big loaf of Italian bread.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

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