Sunday 18 December 2011

Winter Minestrone

Christmas is all about the children.  Every year I mentally conjure up the perfect family scene; spending quality time with the kids, sharing those moments that memories are made of - decorating the tree, wrapping presents, eating mince pies.  Every year, I end up desperately struggling to keep a calm, smiling façade, inevitably thinking - this would all be so much less stressful, if only the kids were not "helping" quite so much.  The tree looks like it has suffered a hurricane   My tasteful, minimalist colour scheme has been sabotaged.  The presents have been so constantly prodded and fiddled with, that they have finally lost any allure, mystery or magic that might have once contained and, as for mince pies and kids - crumbs, sticky fingers and mess.  Never the scene in the magazines.  

At least dinner is sorted.  There are few things that my whole family will eat, without too many complaints on any one front and in our family it is Minestrone.  There is no set recipe for Minestrone and ours has been adapted to suit the family's many likes and dislikes, until it has eventually come a household staple.  I make a huge batch and keep it for emergencies - like Christmas preparations and spending quality time with the kids.  

I save all my Parmesan rinds and chuck them in for extra flavour and also I am very generous with the Pesto.  If you have used up all your home-made pesto, that you prepared with the last of the summer surplus of basil from your garden, harvested just before the first frost came, then just go and buy some.  A good quality one should contain nothing more than basil, extra virgin olive oil, Parmesan, pinenuts, Pecorino and salt.  Check the label.  This is a very seasonal soup.  A distant memory to the Summer Minestrone that I made back in June.  Use up whatever is in your veg box, in the fridge or maybe more to the point, what your kids will eat.  I am still excited about Winter Greens at the moment and in my opinion nothing is better in a Winter Minestrone than king of all cabbages, the Savoy.

Winter Minestrone
I would love to say that I am a girl who constantly has a pot of chicken stock on the back burner, using up all those bones that would otherwise go to waste, but I am not.  If I do make stock I do usually freeze some but when I haven’t, stock cubes are just fine.  Buy a good quality one.  I use Kallo Organic.  Check the ingredients. There really should not be anything dubious in there.  Obviously they are very high in salt, but just add less to your finished soup. 

5 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve
200g smoked streaky bacon, cut into lardons
2 onions, quite finely chopped
4 large carrots cut into 1cm dice
5 sticks of celery cut into 1cm dice
6 clove of garlic, crushed
2 tins cooked and drained Borlotti beans
2 tins good quality tinned tomatoes
Parmesan rinds. (Optional - You can collect these and keep them in the fridge for a few weeks).
1.5l good quality chicken stock (or good quality stock cubes)
200g pasta, either soup pasta such as Ditalini, broken spaghetti or alphabet pasta is quite fun for little kids.
Extra seasonal vegetables of your choice, (courgettes (finely chopped), peas, French beans (cut into 1cm lengths) or Cavalo Nero or Kale (striped from its stem, washed and chopped) or 1/2 a Savoy cabbage (shredded).
180g Pesto, homemade or bought.
Grated Parmesan.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan heat the oil, add the bacon and fry until golden brown.  Add the onion, carrots and celery. Soften over a medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, without allowing them to colour.  If adding courgette, add it now and allow to soften slightly.  Add the garlic and fry for a few minutes more before adding your tomatoes.  Break up with the back of a spoon.  Add the Parmesan rinds if using.  Add the Borlotti bean and allow to cook to about 10 minutes more.  Add the stock, bring to the boil, and then turn down the heat.  Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the pasta and French Beans, Peas, Cavalo Nero, Kale or cabbage and simmer for about 15 minutes until the pasta is cooked. Check seasoning and stir in most of the pesto.  Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a grating of Parmesan and the rest of the pesto. This soup is even better the next day but you will find the pasta has absorbed all the liquid.  Just add a little more water or stock when you re-heat it.

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