Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hearty Italian Minestrone Soup

I realize I've been totally unreasonable....

...tempting you with crazy amounts of butter, sugar and chocolate.

There's this Hot Fudge Sauce....dangerously addictive.

How about these Homemade Coconut Bounty Candy Bars. Ridiculous.

I made Silky Dark Chocolate Truffles. They should be illegal.

And then I tried to convince you that eating these Hazelnut Espresso Cookies for breakfast everyday is perfectly normal. I still stand by that.

To make up for all of this craziness...I've made a vegetable-laden and incredibly satisfying Minestrone Soup.

Minestrone is a hearty Italian soup that, well, is exactly what I just described: loaded with vegetables.

The beauty of it is that there really is no set recipe for minestrone. Typically it contains root vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes, as well as beans and sometimes pasta or rice to thicken it up and give it extra body.

My mom used to always make this soup and my favourite parts about it as a kid were the giant lima beans she used to put in it! They have such a smooth and creamy texture. I would always serve myself first so I could fish them out....I'm weird when it comes to food.

The one thing all minestrone have in common is a sofrito. It's the flavour base for most sauces and soups. It's a combination of onions, garlic, celery and carrots that are cooked over medium heat in some olive oil in a hot pan until soft and very slightly browned before adding the remaining ingredients. I do this for almost everything Italian - risotto, pasta sauce, stews...

The French use the same concept except they call it a mirepoix and cook it in butter. Not surprising.

My minestrone is made with cabbage, romano beans, sweet potatoes and even apple!
I drizzle some extra virgin olive oil and grate some 5-year old Balderson cheddar over the top.

Yeah, I just put extra fat on something totally healthy. I'm hopeless.

Hearty Minestrone Soup

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
pinch of dried red chili flakes
1 medium onion, diced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 small carrot,diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 tsp each dried oregano and thyme
1 tsp minced fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 apple, diced, such as Granny Smith or Empire
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 quarts chicken stock or water
2 sweet potatoes, cut into 3/4 inch chunks
3 cups shredded cabbage
1 19 oz can Romano beans, drained
100 g spaghetti, broken into 1-inch pieces (or rice if you want this to be gluten-free)
extra old cheddar cheese or parmesan

In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add chili flakes, onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Season with some salt and loads of black pepper, stir and cook 1 minute. Add oregano, thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, or until vegetables are soft and translucent, while stirring frequently. Add a splash of water if needed to prevent sticking. Add apple and cook 1 minute before stirring in the tomato paste.

Pour in chicken stock or water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook 30 minutes, covered. Add potatoes and cabbage. Cover pot and simmer for 1 hour. The potatoes will be very soft. Add the beans and spaghetti and cook, covered for another 20 minutes. Taste and season with more salt as needed. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a few cracks of fresh black pepper and some grated parmesan or cheddar cheese. Sweet!
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