Warming the soul with minestrone soup

coverSometimes, nothing else but soup will do. As the whole country has been enshrouded in cold and darkness this winter, why not make up a soup fit to fight this foe?

I’ve been spoiled by homemade soups these past few years, as I am fortunate enough to work where a fabulous cook whips up two soup choices daily in the cafeteria. Canned soup will no longer do. A bowl of good soup has been my lunch for awhile now. A bowl of soup can be just enough. Everything you need in a single pot, a single bowl. The right soup, made up of good ingredients the body needs and craves, is a meal that can’t be beat.

panc01I also love to make soup and have a few favorites in my stable of recipes. In the depth of winter, I go for the heartiest, most satisfying concoctions I can bring to life in my own soup pot. One I make without fail throughout the colder months is a very hearty minestrone. While most minestrones conjure images of light broth, a few veggies and maybe a little pasta, this soup takes a different, richer turn with bottom flavors of pancetta (Italian bacon), beef broth, pine-y rosemary and adds more substantial vegetables in potato and dark greens. It is luscious, deeply flavored and heartily satisfying — perfect for winter.

image (16)One cold Saturday, I hiked a hill against a bracing wind and spitting rain and was propelled mainly by one thought: making this soup. I went home and got it simmering, and any chill I had felt earlier was completely dispelled, and I was as warm and satisfied as if under a cozy blanket.

When you begin with bacon, how can you go wrong? Whenever I see pancetta, I pick up a package or two to keep in the freezer. Milder than traditional bacon, this Italian version pops up again and again in recipes for good reason. It really imparts a flavorful base to soups, sauces and pasta. I even image (18)once cloaked a pork loin in pancetta (note to self: do that again).

For this minestrone, the pancetta is sauteed in olive oil with onions, carrot, celery and garlic to steam the kitchen into an aromatic heaven.

Next, one large chopped potato and chopped chard are added and cooked for a bit. I love the addition of chard here, but I have also used other “muscular” greens in this soup, such as kale and collards.

Canned chopped tomatoes and a few springs of rosemary are added and brought to a simmer. The rosemary leaves drift away from their stems and really impart a deep woodsy flavor that makes this soup so uniquely flavored.

image (19)A bean-and-beef-broth puree, along with straight beef broth, turn this lovely concoction into a true soup. And another interesting flavor twist…I don’t know how many folks have a rind from a wedge of Parmesan cheese in their fridge, but if they do, toss it in the soup. This Italian practice is said to lend a richness and flavor. Though the recipe says to take the rind out and discard once the soup is ready, I leave it in. Whoever lucks out to get the ladleful that contains the softened wedge will enjoy not only a hearty soup, but the bonus of a hunk of gooey, melted Parmesan.

Winter Minestrone
Recipe by Giada De Laurentiis www.foodnetwork.com
Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound Swiss chard, stems trimmed, leaves coarsely chopped
1 russet potato, peeled, cubed
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 fresh rosemary sprig
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained, rinsed
2 (14-ounce) cans low-sodium beef broth
1 ounce piece Parmesan cheese rind
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
Salt and pepper

Directions

Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, pancetta, and garlic. Saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the Swiss chard and potato; saute for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and rosemary sprig. Simmer until the chard is wilted and the tomatoes break down, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend 3/4 cup of the beans with 1/4 cup of the broth in a processor until almost smooth. Add the pureed bean mixture, remaining broth, and Parmesan cheese rind to the vegetable mixture. Simmer until the potato pieces are tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Stir in the whole beans and parsley. Simmer until the beans are heated through and the soup is thick, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Discard Parmesan rind and rosemary sprig (the leaves will have fallen off of the stem.)

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.

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