This recipe is a variation on an original done by Marcella Hazan in her The Classic Italian Cookbook. As the weather here is showing signs of the warmth, sunlight and fresh lightness of Spring, it is also doing a typically Melbourne thing where the weather reverts back to the rainy chill of the Winter. Whenever that Winter briskness reappears I find myself hungering for the nourishing comfort of a hearty, rich vegetable soup. This soup, Marcella's Minestrone, elicited my first word in fact. It was my introduction to the sophisticated world of vegetable appreciation and it was the softest and most nutritious dish my parents could feed me whilst I was making my transition from baby mush to texture adventures.
The story goes that I sat in my high chair, slurping and devouring my first helping. Once I'd cleaned the bowl, I looked at my father and simply said, "More". And that word has been a frequent fixture in my repertoire of words ever since.
So here is my spin of the Winter minestrone which is a little lighter in ode of Spring, but packs the same flavour of the original.
For this I gathered these ingredients:
a small dollop of butter and a drizzle of olive oil
2-3 carrots (depending how keen on carrots)
2-3 celery sticks
250g French/String beans
400g Green/Savoy cabbage
1.5 Litres vegetable or chicken stock
a large parmesan cheese rind
175g tinned tomatoes (in their juice and diced)
40g grated parmesan
Chop all the vegetables according to your preference regarding chunk-factor. I find the zucchini and cabbage always soften considerably so if you don't want them lost in the soup avoid dicing them as finely as your other vegetables.
Begin by sweating your onion in the heated butter and oil in a large saucepan - I repeat, LARGE, because this makes a good deal of soup, baby. Lucky for babies who love soup.
Once the onions have softened and are turning golden brown, add your chopped carrots and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring them once or twice.
Throw in your green beans, diced celery, zucchini, allowing each of them to cook a couple minutes in the pot before adding the next one. Then add the cabbage and cook for roughly 6 minutes and stirring occasionally.
Next comes the stock (enough to just cover your vegetables as this soup is not as fun if it's not thick and hearty), cheese crust and tinned tomatoes with their juice.
Add a little bit of salt and some pepper to taste - store-bought stock can be saltier than homemade (unless you're a salt fiend!) in which case you might not need to even add extra salt at all.
Cover the saucepan and let the soup slow boil for about 3 hours. You can go and visit it, like I do, checking its progress, giving it a stir, playing spot the parmesan rind (which looks hideous by the end), or just to dip a spoon in because you cannot resist the amazing smell wafting about the house.
Fifteen minutes before you're ready to serve up, remove the cheese crust and discard it - gooey and spongey it will be. Add your grated parmesan and stir in now or otherwise reserve for the table and sprinkle on top to your delight.
This soup freezes very well and like a good wine or certain cheese, gets better with age. Therefore, I will usually hold off on combining the parmesan immediately but if you've got a notion the soup will be fully devoured, go to town with the parmesan because parmesan makes everything better.
And then say buon appetito
And then say "Buon appetito" or, alternatively, "More."