Well, the minestrones have it: so here you go!
Minestrone: there are so many versions, so many seasonal options, that it should really just be called “soup.” Or, more accurately I suppose, “zuppe.” Because that’s the story: “minestrone” is basically a collective noun used to describe any number of thick soups based upon seasonal vegetables and some form of starch, be it beans, pasta, rice, or potato. Usually tomatoes and greens are involved, but there don’t seem to be any hard and fast rules. Which is exactly how I like my soups: loose & slow.
I had a mountain of arugula in the fridge from the last couple of weeks of the CSA. Also, there has been a distinct chill in the air: minestrone seemed just the thing to tackle both of those problems. Before I started on this version, I scouted around Ye Olde Interwebs and took a peak at a few different recipes: Jamie Oliver’s, Ina Garten’s, Giada De Laurentiis‘, Martha Stewart’s. I was surprised to find potato in so many of them; I don’t think I’ve ever seen potato in a minestrone. Undaunted, I thought: why not? Because what is minestrone, really, if not a chance to throw a bunch of things in the pot and figure out what works? Unfortunately for the humble Russet, I was not a big fan. It’s not a horrible mistake or anything – just potato in a soup – but it doesn’t add much and seemed somehow wrong to me. I guess it’s just not the way we did it in the North End.
The fennel-spiked sausage, on the other hand, was brilliant, and the combination of corn stock, fresh tomatoes, tomato paste and Parmesan rind made for a truly memorable broth. Tai and I both had two bowls for dinner and I’m about to demolish another for lunch. This version came out beautifully, but I’m sure yours will too. Use what you have, don’t be afraid to experiment, and taste, taste, taste along the way. After all, it’s only zuppe.
Never fear, preservers: I plan to shoot the plum jam & nectarine butter today and get them up within the week. You cookie fans may have to wait a while, though…
- 1 tbsp olive oil or bacon grease
- 2 Italian sausage links (about 8 oz), sliced or crumbled
- 1 large red onion, diced
- 1 medium leek, washed well, halved and thinly sliced
- 2 medium carrots, sliced
- 2 stalks celery, trimmed and sliced
- 1 small green bell pepper, diced
- 1 mild red chile pepper, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¾ lb arugula, torn into bite-sized pieces
- 2 lbs fresh tomatoes, cored and diced
- 1 large Russet potato, peeled & diced (optional)
- 1 lb cooked white or cranberry beans, with pot liquor if possible (I used solider beans from Maine; borlotti beans are considered by some the most “traditional” bean)
- 2 quarts stock or water (I used corn cob)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 1, 2-inch section of Parmesan rind
- 1 ½ tsp sea salt, or to taste (less if you use store-bought stock)
- ¼ tsp red chile flakes
- 2 tbsp fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley
- freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or other salty grating cheese), for serving
- Heat oil or bacon grease in a large stockpot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add sausage, stirring once to coat in grease, and brown, stirring occasionally, until nicely browned on all sides. Remove sausage to a clean plate. If necessary drain off all but 3 tbsp of sausage grease (or add additional olive oil or bacon grease).
- Add onion, leek, carrot, celery, and green and red pepper to the stockpot over medium heat. Stir to scrape up fond; reduce heat to low and sauté vegetables until well-softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and arugula: stir and sauté until greens are wilted, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add tomato, potato (if using), beans, stock, tomato paste, rosemary, parmesan rind, salt and chile flakes. Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until flavors blend and potato is tender, about 20 – 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir in fresh parsley and serve hot, garnished with grated cheese.
Serves 8 – 10.
- In lieu of Italian sausage, I used some of the “simple sausage” (simply pork & fat, without flavorings or spices) from my Millstone Farm pork CSA, and added a bit of fennel seed and dried oregano to the soup. The fennel came through beautifully and really flavored the broth; if you like fennel, consider adding a pinch or two of seed to your soup with the arugula. Sausage isn’t typical in minestrone (bacon & pancetta are, but the bacon is currently buried in the chest freezer under an avalanche of peppers and corn) but the small amount added a lot of flavor and heartiness to the soup.
- Most minestrone I’ve had uses bitter, spicy greens, like escarole or broccoli rabe, and I like the bitterness as a balance to the sweet vegetables. You could substitute kale, chard, mustard greens, even beet or radish tops for the arugula; if using kale or chard, increase the amount to 1 lb. A lot of recipes call for Savoy cabbage, so if that’s what you’ve got, give it a go.
- Many recipes call for canned crushed tomatoes; I used fresh because I had them on hand. Feel free to substitute a pint or two of canned crushed or diced tomatoes.
- As noted above, I wasn’t a big fan of potato in minestrone; not horrible, just not great. I sometimes add pasta – I like the tiny tubettini best – and if so, I’ll cook it separately and add in the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Refrigerated for up to 5 days. Frozen for up to 6 months.