Wobbly weather, north and south, flavours and goodness
Autumn is not far away from where I am. I know this because the weather patterns are going wobbly. I can feel a plunge in temperature an hour before sunset and the Met Office get the weather forecast wrong some days.
The recipe for making Minestrone soup contrasts across the regions of Italy, which are significantly influenced by the seasonal availability of crops and the regional weather climate. I mean, consider this, northern Italy produces dairy products, rice, corn, wheat, grapes, olives and tomatoes. While the south specializes in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, wine, and durum wheat. Coastal areas in Puglia, Sicily, and Sardinia may register only about 12–16 inches (300–400 mm) of annual rainfall, compared with about 118 inches (3,000 mm) in Alpine regions of northern Italy.
This recipe is my own favourite. The foundation of my minestrone is pasta, beans, carrots, celery, onions, along with tomatoes and Ligurian green pesto. The other ingredients are variable but I try to reach a nutritional balance and to incorporate a green vegetable. These additions, of pasta and pesto and the other elements, elevate what could be a mundane vegetable soup up to the peak of quality flavours and goodness.
“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves,
We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!”
― Humbert Wolfe
So, there it is. Here it is. The moment, the season, for L.M.S.
LIGURIAN MINESTRONE SOUP / ZUPPA MINESTRONE LIGURE
“Rich in vegetables and Genovese pesto, this soup is full of vitamins and nutrients. Pesto is one of the gastronomic symbols of Genoa and the wider region of Liguria. A standard recipe does not exist both because minestrone was made with seasonal vegetables, the ones at disposal, and because every family had their own habits and tastes. The last touch, the one that gives the fresh Ligurian flavour to the dish, is the final addition of pesto. Be careful however, a basil pesto made without pine nuts and that should be added only when the pot is removed from the fire. To keep its sparkly green colour and release all its “raw” fragrance’s pesto must not boil. Finally, tradition rules that minestrone must be served after a fifteen minute rest in the bowl, better if made of terracotta. In summer we eat it even the next day, at room temperature, and it is fantastic too.” Enrica Monzani
- Ingredients: Serves 6
- 1.25 litres water
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled, cut in half and crushed
- 1 small white onion or ½ medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 carrots, rinsed, ends removed, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 celery stalks, rinsed, ends removed and finely chopped
- 1 handful flat-leaf parsley, rinsed, dried, stems removed and finely chopped
- 200g new potatoes, peeled and diced
- 200g savoy cabbage or kale, leaves shredded
- 1 handful peas, podded or use 100g frozen petits pois
- 150g tinned cannellini or borlotti beans. Drain and rinse in tap water.
- 120g tinned peeled plum tomatoes (around half a tin) or fresh peeled tomatoes
- 50 ml olive oil for cooking
- 50 ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- Ground sea salt and black pepper to taste
- 120 grams of short pasta e.g., ditalini, Mafalda or macaroni
- Vegetarian Pecorino hard cheese to taste
- Clean and wash all vegetables thoroughly.
- In a large, deep stock pot, over a medium-low heat warm the olive oil then gently fry the garlic until it begins to soften and stir frequently. Add the onion, carrot and celery in the olive oil with a pinch of salt, stirring every now and then for about 8 minutes, or until soft and fragrant.
- Meanwhile, add the potatoes to the stock pot, stir and cook on a low heat for 5 minutes. Add the other vegetables to the stock pot, stir and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes (resist the urge to put in more than half a tin), stir then add the water and 2 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir thoroughly, cover and leave to simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Make the pesto: While the vegetables are cooking, prepare the pesto. In a mortar, pound the garlic, basil, pine nuts, and a few grains of salt to preserve the green colour of leaves. Continue to grind and slowly add the grated cheeses and olive oil. Mix until the sauce is creamy and fragrant.
- Now add the beans and parsley to the stock pot, stir and cook for another 20 minutes on a low heat. Make sure the minestrone is neither too watery nor too thick. If you find it is looking a little too thick, or dry, add a little more water.
- Scoop out 3 ladles of minestrone, blend separately in a bowl and return to the stock pot.
- Add the pasta and mix thoroughly. Bring back to the boil then simmer gently for 10 minutes.
- Remove the pan of soup from the heat, stir in the pesto and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes: stir well before serving. Serve warm into soup bowls with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and grated cheese on the side. Pour any remaining pesto into a bowl for use on the table. It’s also good served the next day at room temperature.