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A fast, hearty, healthy, rich, and inexpensive main course is what this soup is all about. A little pancetta to set the stage for the quickly sautéed vegetables bolstered by a heart-happy hit of garlic. A big blustery can of Italian tomatoes added to chicken stock to create instant broth. Pasta and beans to fill your tummy. A few fresh leaves of spinach and a splash each of white wine and pesto to top it all off and make it so.
Winter Minestrone & Garlic Bruschetta (click link for recipe) comes out of Ina Garten’s most recent and seventh book, BAREFOOT CONTESSA : Foolproof — Recipes You Can Trust, published in 2012 by Clarkson Potter. Quentin Bacon did the stellar photographs. That’s right; this is a coffee table book even if you plan to cook from it. You can dream with this gorgeous tome while you sip a cup of tea early in the morning. Put it on the bedside table and then discuss menus with your partner over a glass of white wine at 11 p.m. Or drag it along to the JW Marriott in Denver’s Cherry Creek (my local escape) like I did. One of my favorite things about this book is the way the paper feels and the quintessential new-book aroma wafting upwards each time it’s opened. I am a book, a real book, fanatic. (I did make my living as a librarian, as well as a choral director. I even taught English a few years.) It’s not that I don’t read on the iPad — or even on Dave’s Kindle — I do. But I’m enamored of the senses provoked by books I can see, smell, hold, feel, touch, and even shelve. There.
But about this soup:
I make several different minestrones. Actually, they are never the same twice. I’m especially in love with chicken minestrone; what could be healthier or more satisfying? And what’s more interesting than a soup that can be had with an Italian red? But what drew me to Ina’s minestrone was this: it’s an amalgam of cultures and cooking styles.
It’s nearly vegetarian (Ok, it’s got bacon–you could leave it out.), but feels like a meaty entree–very like many Italian soups. Ina recommends serving the garlic toast in the soup. A bit on the road to Ribollita, which is re-boiled minestrone stretched with toasted bread. However, unlike most minestrones, this particular variation contains all-American butternut squash. And, as if that weren’t enough–like many French Provencal vegetable soups (mostly spring or summer affairs), it has a bit of pesto or pistou at the end to round it out and give it just that needed sweet second punch.
While it doesn’t know who it is, it tastes as if it knows precisely what it should taste like.
As I made the minestrone, I spooned up a bowlful of black-eyed peas and ham my oldest son made yesterday for New Year’s. Smart guy; he didn’t leave out the bay leaf and he used a respectable amount of thyme. I could eat this every day. Well, almost.
My house is still decorated because we celebrate the 12 days of Christmas that end with the arrival of the magi on 6 December. You’ll notice that today — the 9th day of Christmas (9 ladies dancing) — the wise guys way in the back are just beginning to turn toward the manger. The peek of Pike’s Peak out my front door shows a sunny day below with snow on the mountain–as it is most days of the year.
(Want to make a Three Kings Cake for Epiphany, December 6? Check out CHOCOLATE AND ZUCCHINI’S recipe here.)
Mid-afternoon on the sunny 6th Day of Christmas, I stirred up the bacon….
Chopped up the vegetables…using the food processor as much as possible to save time…
Added my favorite Italian tomatoes…. And poured in the chicken stock. There wasn’t much more to it.I let it cook a while–not long– and made the pasta separately so it wouldn’t become giant food. I used Barilla Ditalini, which is a tad bigger than tubetti. (Peeler in photo to provide scale.) Simple, but all you’d want. Fresh spinach makes an appearance just before serving. Otherwise, you can make this soup early in the day or a day ahead.
So what did I think..what did I change? This soup is luscious as is. Truly. But I liked it better with four small changes: a. I sautéed the vegetables with a bit of crushed red pepper and seasoned them with salt and pepper as they cooked, rather than afterward. I cut down the salt by 1/3. b. I used regular thick American bacon instead of pancetta because I had it in the fridge. No problem there. c. I added 3 shakes of Tabasco to the broth – not enough to make the soup hot — but to round out the flavor a bit. d. I served it with fresh bread (ciabatta) instead of garlic toast. I just had the dunking urge and couldn’t ignore it. This soup begs dunking. Also: Makes lots. My son Sean, his wife, and our grandson are living with us while their house is being sold; four of us each ate two large bowlfuls and there is plenty left for today’s lunch. (Below: Sean, an incredible cook, at Thanksgiving)
WINE: a light Italian red, such as a Montepulciano.
There’s no sense in you not making this soup. Luscious, inexpensive (notice I didn’t say “cheap”) and filling, it’s everything a healthy winter soup should be. As long as you add bit more “kick!” As always, thanks, Ina Garten!WANT MORE INFO ABOUT MINESTRONE? (“Minestra” is soup in Italian.) Try Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan; New York: Knopf, 2001. This volume is a combination of her two books, THE CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKBOOK and MORE CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKING.
Favorite Ina quote:
When the game is up, and you are at that Great Party in the Sky, what kind of party will it be? Who will the other guests be?
When I arrive at the pearly gates, I hope God says to me, “We’ve reserved the penthouse suite for you and your friends are all waiting.” I don’t have much interest in meeting famous people — I just want to be surrounded by the smart, funny, people that I love. But then, I wouldn’t mind if James Ivory and Ishmael Merchant could stop by.
ALL ABOUT INA FRIDAYS:
The first Friday of the month, food bloggers from many parts of the world join together in posting a favorite Ina recipe. This month we have Salads, Soups, and Sides. Next month for February, we’re whipping up Main Courses for Valentine’s Day!
Stop in and see what all of our fine writers are cooking up today or any day:
- Ansh @ Spice Roots
- Bhavna @ Just a Girl From AAmchi Mumbai..
- Chaya @ Bizzy Bakes
- Linda, @ Tumbleweed Contessa
- Mary @ The Egg Farm
- Minnie @ The Lady 8 Home
- Mireya @ My Healthy Eating Habits On vacation! Check earlier posts+visit in Feb.!
- Peggy@ Pantry Revisited
- Rocky Mountain Woman @ Rocky Mountain Woman
- Veronica@ My Catholic Kitchen
Are you a food blogger? We’d love to have you every month or even once in a while! Email Alyce @ firstname.lastname@example.org to join the group or link in to join us occasionally (click on blue oval link button at bottom and follow prompts) only if you’re blogging Ina! No other posts, please?!
Sing a new song,