Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hearty Minestrone

Cat: very good at sleeping on the couch.
Not so good at working kitchen machines.
I did not want to go to the Kroger this morning. What I wanted was to stay in bed, and have someone serve me a tray of hot coffee with cream and flaky croissants with jam while I listened to the rain patter on the skylight and read the Sunday paper. Maybe in my next life.
Alas, there was no one but the cat to serve me breakfast in bed, and Mamie was even less inclined than I was to get up and brew a pot of coffee. Plus, she has no thumbs and a brain the size of a walnut, so kitchen tasks are extraordinarily difficult for her.
So, after making my own coffee with milk and settling for a bowl of oatmeal with honey at the kitchen table, I decided to go Krogering anyway. Sunday morning is the best time. The shelves are restocked, and there is no one else in the store to fight you for that gorgeous bag of bell peppers that has just been marked down to $0.99. Or that huge bag of banana peppers for $1.50. And no one is going to arm-wrestle those neckbones away from you, no matter what day of the week it is.
The raw materials alone look good enough to eat, don't they?
What I can't tell you is why yellow bell peppers and beef neckbones started screaming "Minestrone!" But on a cold and rainy day in December, a hearty (and healthy) vegetable soup sounded really good. Now, there is no one right way to make minestrone. If this is not your Italian Grema's recipe, well, I am not your Italian Grema. This is what was in the pantry, so this is what went into the soup. Which is how your Italian Grema always made her soup, too.
Get the bones good and brown. More brown = more flavor.
What You Need
  • 1 medium-large (170g) onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs (120g) celery, chopped
  • 3 large (200g) carrots, chopped
  • 1 large (200g) bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • 4-5 meaty beef neckbones
  • 2 cloves garlic, quartered
Sauté until the onions are clear, and everything takes a
bit of color. Don't caramelize it, though.
  • 64 oz (2l) chicken stock
  • 1 tsp each: oregano, thyme, parsley, basil
  • generous grind of black pepper
  • 1 can (425g) diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 8 oz (225g) uncooked ditalini
  • 1 can (425g) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (425g) garbanzo (ceci) beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup (120g) green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
Add back the bones, some broth, some seasonings.
Now wait. Keep waiting.
What You Do
  1. Chop the aromatics and set aside.
  2. In a large dutch oven or soup pot, heat 1 TBS olive oil almost to smoking. Add the neckbones and sear. Get a good brown on all sides, but don't rush it. Don't use really high heat (high end of medium, or low end of high).
  3. Remove beef bones from the pot and place them in a bowl. Add the second tablespoon of oil and sauté the onion, celeery, carrot, and pepper until the onions are soft and translucent. A little bit of color is nice, but do not caramelize.
  4. Add the garlic and sauté briefly, until it is fragrant. Put the bones back in the pot, along with any juices that have accumulated in the bowl.
  5. Pour in the stock and stir in the dried herbs. Add a generous grind of black pepper.
  6. Simmer over low heat (bubbling at the edges, but no rolling boil) for two hours. Add the can of tomatoes and continue to simmer (reduce heat slightly) for another three hours.
  7. Fish the bones out of the soup. Remove all of the bones, and if there are any large chunks of meat remaining, remove those as well. Cut any large chunks into smaller, more manageable pieces and return to pot.
  8. Add the uncooked pasta, the kidney and the garbanzo beans. Stir well, then reduce the heat again (you should be barely simmering) and let simmer for 20 minutes. Add the green beans.
  9. After another 20 minutes, check the pasta. The soup is done when the pasta is cooked to your liking. Thicken the broth (if desired) with a few spoonfuls of tomato paste.
  10. Taste and adjust seasonings. If your broth was unsalted or low-sodium, you probably want to add some salt now. Use your own tastebuds for judgement.
Add beans and pasta. Wait some more. Thicken with tomato paste.
What You Eat
This is a lot of soup. It's about 12 cups. To keep the math simple, I assumed ten servings. One serving, then is about a cup and a quarter. This is just about right with half a sandwich for lunch, or with a salad and one or two rye rolls for dinner.
Calories 240 Protein 11g Vitamin B6 21%
Fat 3.9g Vitamin A 77% Folate 29%
Saturated Fat 0.56g Vitamin C 81% Vitamin B12 1.8%
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.76g Calcium 7.9% Pantothenic Acid 5.5%
Monounsaturated Fat 2.2g Iron 18% Phosphorus 18%
Cholesterol 0mg Vitamin D 0% Magnesium 14%
Sodium 745mg Vitamin E 4.3% Zinc 12%
Potassium 717mg Thiamin 22% Copper 19%
Carbohydrate 42g Riboflavin 13% Selenium 23%
Fiber 6.8g Niacin 21% Manganese 41%
Sugars 4.4g

Definitely worth the wait.
What You Learn
  • I used beef bones, as I got a good deal on them this morning. You could skip the meat entirely, or sear it in bacon fat depending on which way you want to go with this.
  • I used yellow bell pepper, since it was lovely and colorful, and again, I got a great deal this morning at the Kroger. Green or red bells would be equally lovely and delicious.
  • I used two boxes of organic chicken stock. There is a shocking lack of homemade broth in my freezer (read: none to be had), so I am buying boxes of reduced sodium stock. For my taste, I ended up adding some salt to the soup.
  • I used ditalini, but any small pasta would be appropriate.
  • Use whatever combination of beans you like. If you are not crazy for beans, cube up a couple potatoes (preferably a waxy type like White Rose or Yukon Gold) and add them when you add the pasta. They should cook at about the same rate.
  • I used tomato paste to thicken, because I happen to like the extra tomato flavor. One way to give the broth body without more tomato would be to let the potatoes cook until they break down. Or, if you have instant mashed potato flakes, you could stir some in. I would not use a roux or cornstarch to thicken this.
  • I used the crockpot for this. My crockpot has a stovetop-safe aluminum insert, so I was able to sear and sauté on the stove, then drop the crock into the pot and walk away. I set the first 2 hours at high, and the remaining time on low.

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