Thursday, January 24, 2008

Minestrone Soup Remixed (Hot M entry)

When you think soup and healthy, minestrone comes immediately to my mind. It's always a versatile comforting standby for all of it's endless possibilities. In the summer you can use all the booty of your garden and winter it can be an almost completely different soup. Actually, I guess it is every time you make it. My mother in law and I were discussing soup one time and she always says she's making minestra, and I asked about minestrone, and she said that the main difference is that minestra, means small diced ingredients or smooth or broth type soup, where as minestrone meant larger, chunky style of soup. Hummm that is interesting.
I thought that this is a good reminder of small changes one can make in old favorites to increase healthfulness by subtle changes, small steps repeated consistently. I need to remind myself as well. So I offer this post for this months Heart of the Matter, Eating for Life, soup event, co-hosted by Joanna of Joanna's Food, a delightfully helpful ongoing blog about life enhancing cuisine and other aspects of living, and Ilva of Lucullian Delights, whose photography and imaginative cooking is always an indulgent delight.

One doesn't need much direction for making Minestrone Soup
other than a couple of essentials and maybe one secret ingredient.
Can you spot it in the photo?
Round up the usual suspects,
gusti: onion, carrot, celery( the holy trinity),
Add garlic and saute in a dash of olive oil
Add seasonal variables, zucchinis, potatoes, green and wax beans and some type of leafy greens, like beet root
*Winter variation add regular or roman cauliflower, sunchoke (jerusalem), pictured below, or turnips, in place of the beans and zukes
and some favorite herbs, bay leaf and mixed Italian herbs, (oregano, basil, sage, marjoram, thyme, rosemary).
Add some fresh or tinned tomatoes and enough water or low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
Normally minestrone has a few beans and pasta tubes.
To keep with a healthier version, you might consider adding some of the gluten free varieties of pasta which are made without eggs in the pasta. I find the rice penne holds up nicely in the soup and makes a tasty change.
I added fresh borlotti beans that I had stashed in the freezer from the autumn.
So now for the secret ingredient, which may of course be deemed optional...
A small piece of a parmigiana heel (or some type of hard cheese, our local variety is Grana Padano) added to the soup for that little intangible additional complexity of flavor.
Those of us lucky enough to be able to purchase fresh chunks out of the wheel usually have part of the dried outer crust left after grating as closely as you dare and end up with a super dry heel. Added to the soup when cooking it is sometimes referred to as the cooks reward.
So if you can allow yourself a little treat it's a delicious surprise at the bottom of your bowl or can be discarded or not used at all depending on your preference, especially if you're avoiding dairy altogether. Anyway you try it Minestrone is a welcome offering.
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