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Serves 6

Minestrone, loosely adapted from the classic Italian soup, is any big pot of vegetables, beans, and pasta. And while it’s often made with summer’s garden harvest, it’s just as good in the middle of winter with big chunks of butternut and cauliflower and plenty of leeks (don’t skip the soaking; they can be quite sandy). You can add whole or chopped canned tomatoes or a can of whole cherry tomatoes, if you can find them in an Italian market, and white beans. This recipe omits the pasta because the soup is filling enough and pasta tends to absorb broth. The secret here is a piece of Parmesan rind; you only need 2-inches to add wonderful flavor to the pot while it simmers. When you cut up the butternut and cauliflower, keep both in very large pieces because they’ll fall apart a little by the time the soup is done, thicken the broth, and you’ll still have big morsels of vegetables. You’ll find yourself making this soup again and again. It’s deeply satisfying.

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2leeks, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
2tablespoons olive oil
2large carrots, cut into ½-inch dice
1stalk celery
Salt and pepper, to taste
1teaspoon ground cumin
1teaspoon ground coriander
1can (15 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, crushed in a bowl
1can (15 ounces) cannellini or other white beans, drained
6cups chicken stock
1cup water
2tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or thyme
2-inch piece of Parmesan rind
1whole peeled butternut squash, cut into 2-inch pieces
½cauliflower, cut into 3-inch pieces
Extra chopped oregano or thyme (for garnish)

1. Soak the leeks in cold water for 20 minutes. With your hands, lift the leeks from the water (do not tip them into a strainer) and transfer to a bowl.

2. In a soup pot, heat the olive oil. Add the leeks, carrots, celery, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables soften. Add the cumin and coriander and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

3. Add the tomatoes and continue cooking, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Stir in the beans and when they are coated with the tomato mixture, stir in the stock.

4. Bring to a boil, add the oregano or thyme, Parmesan rind, squash, and cauliflower. Return to a boil, lower the heat, and set on the cover askew. Simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the butternut and cauliflower are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife.

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5. Remove the Parmesan rind. Taste the soup for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like. Ladle into bowls and garnish with oregano or thyme. Sheryl Julian


Sheryl Julian can be reached at sheryl.julian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.