Lynda Balslev: S.O.S. soup
Sometimes, all we need is soup. It’s not a cure-all, but sometimes it’s just right. A pot of soup feeds a family; it warms and nourishes, and fills our kitchen with delicious aromas. It’s also an efficient meal, using up vegetables and leftovers and relying on pantry staples. It’s homey and undemanding, yet with a few key ingredients, a simple pot of soup can magically transform into a satisfying and delicious one-pot meal.
Minestrone is a classic Italian vegetable soup, brimming with diced vegetables swirling in a tomato-infused stock. It’s rustic, filling and layered with flavor. The stock can be vegetable or chicken, to which tomatoes are added — not to dominate, but just enough to infuse the stock with brightness and complexity. Carrots and onions form the base for the vegetables, often with celery or fennel added to the aromatic mix.
From that point, other vegetables can be added to your liking. Chopped leafy greens, diced root vegetables and zucchini are all great contenders. In addition to vegetables, pasta and/or beans are frequently included in minestrone, providing satisfying substance, and when the two ingredients are combined, they create are an economical source of protein.
A key final ingredient pulls this soup together: a hunk of cheese rind, either Parmesan or Pecorino Romano. Cheese rind is a wonderful secret ingredient to a tomato-and-vegetable soup (and a terrific way to use up any cheese remnants). As the rind simmers in the stock, it will break down, imparting a kick of salt and an umami depth of flavor, while adding body to the soup.
Finally, when prepping the soup, try to uniformly chop and dice the vegetables. Not only is it visually appealing, but it somehow makes the soup taste even better — perhaps because it’s easier to get a little bite of everything in each spoonful.
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Yield: Serves 4
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, fronds removed, diced
1 medium yellow potato, peeled, diced
1 small zucchini, seeded and diced
4 to 6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 (15-ounce) can chopped plum tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (2-inch) chunk Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese rind
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini or northern beans, drained
1 heaping cup coarsely chopped greens, such as Swiss chard, kale or spinach leaves
Fresh Italian parsley leaves for garnish
Finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese for serving
Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots and fennel and continue to saute until the vegetables brighten in color and are crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes more. Add the potato and zucchini and briefly saute, about 1 minute. Add the 4 cups stock, the tomatoes, bay leaf, oregano, thyme, salt and black pepper. If the soup is too chunky, add more stock to your desired consistency.
Bring the soup to a simmer and submerge the cheese rind in it. Partially cover the pot and simmer over medium-low heat until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in the beans and greens and simmer until the greens wilt, about 2 minutes more.
Ladle the soup into warm bowls. Garnish with parsley and serve with the grated cheese for sprinkling.
Lynda Balslev is a cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay area.
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