Soup for a Chilly Spring Day: Minestrone Verde with Parmesan and Pesto
April 22, 2019
The Italians have it right, especially when it comes to cooking and eating. Their use of seasonal produce, simple and straightforward preparations, and ingredients in moderation jives very well with my own kitchen and dining philosophy. As a result, many of the meals that I have enjoyed in Italy remain foremost in my mind as the most delicious I have ever eaten. These "taste memories" as they are called are powerful, and transport me immediately to the time and place that I first ate the dishes. Such is the case with this soup.
Setting the scene, it was May and my first grown-up trip to Italy. There were no backpacks and hostels involved. I did still have a lot to learn about packing and traveling, as my husband and I could barely fit our luggage into the tin-can-on-wheels that doubled as our rental car. The other issue, we packed for 75 degree weather and in a trick of Mother Nature, the black turtleneck and raincoat that I packed for travel days saw a lot of use, as we shivered our way across the Tuscan countryside. Our saving grace, warming spring soups like this one and of course the local wines.
When I began the trip, I would never have considered eating soup in May. But the unseasonable temperature and the deliciously light yet warming combinations of vegetables soon changed that. This is not an exact copy of the soups that I ate, but one of a similar style.
The leeks, onion, and celery add delicious flavor. The kale, plenty of nutrients. The beans make it filling, and the peas, and overall green color, say spring. Finish it with a shower of freshly-grated parmigiana reggiano, a drizzle of pesto if you have some on hand, and finally a glass of Italian wine.
Secrets for Success:
Leeks are often quite sandy. Place cut leeks in a bowl of water and swish around. Lift the leeks from the water and drain well. If the leeks still seem sandy after the first rinse, repeat in 1-2 more changes of water. Pat dry with paper towel.
The quality of the broth determines the taste of the final soup so if at all possible make your own. If not, Pacific Chicken Broth and Imagine Vegetable Stock, both sold at Whole Foods and Amazon, are excellent store-bought alternatives.
If using water as a soup base, add a parmesan rind to the soup when you add the water. It will dissolve a little as the soup cooks and give the soup a little extra flavor and body.
Make sure your cheese rind is stamped with "Parmigiano-Reggiano" so you know it is authentic.
Always grate your own cheese using a microplane or box cheese grater. The pre-grated has no flavor.
If using canned beans in this recipe, opt for Eden brand. They have no sodium added and have a firmer texture closer to home-cooked than other brands.
Spring Minestrone Verde
Adapted from Bon Appetit
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1/2 medium leek, white and pale-green parts only, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
1 celery stalk, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
4 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock (I used Ina Garten’s recipe. See Secrets for Success for more options) or water
6 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed, sliced in half,crosswise
½ bunch small Tuscan kale, ribs and stems removed, leaves torn
1 14.5-ounce can cannellini (white kidney) beans, rinsed (preferably Eden) or home-cooked
1 cup shelled frozen peas, thawed
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano and crushed red pepper flakes (for serving)
Pesto for serving, optional
Heat oil in a medium size 2-quart sauce pot over medium heat. Cook onions, leeks, and celery, stirring often, until soft but not browned, 6–8 minutes. Season with salt.
Add thyme and bay leaf, stirring often, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add sugar snap peas; cook until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Add kale, beans, and peas and cook until kale is wilted and peas are tender, about 3 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper.
Serve soup, topped with some Parmesan, red pepper flakes, and pesto, if using.
adapted from Deborah Madison
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts or walnuts
3 cups packed basil leaves, stems removed, leaves washed and dried
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
In a food processor, process the garlic, salt, and pine nuts until fairly finely chopped, then add the basil and olive oil. When smooth, add the parmesan and process just to combine. Season to taste with salt and freshly-ground black pepper.
Makes ¾ cup.