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Minestrone Soup

The Internet of Food is a mostly gobsmacking, finger-licking boon to cooks everywhere.

And sometimes it’s a frustrating cupboard of loose ends, as bad as being one egg short when you’re already mixing up cake batter.

Example: you pull up Google to find a recipe you pulled up 4 months ago, but new search algorithms have buried it under a hundred copycats. Or there is clearly a critical typo, even an entire missing step. Or your browser chokes on the unfortunate technology choices of an otherwise very clever chef. Your onions burn at the edges while you’re waiting out the spinning beachball.

By far the biggest challenges stem from too-common search terms, and this is compounded by the fact that recipes can’t easily be copyrighted, begetting a torrent of imitation among the stunning diversity of culinary creatives.

Recently I was defeated by humble minestrone, a proper history of which seemed somehow important. But the Internet of Food simply would not assist.

Some enthusiastic recipe writers claim that the word means “big soup.” Others suggest the word has come to mean “mix of all things.” But nobody references their claims, and online dictionaries on the etymology for minestrone don’t concur as to what it might mean.

So I’m going to do an unusual thing, and just suggest that you might want to read the Wikipedia entry [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minestrone] for minestrone, which may have some decent documentation, only I can’t double-check it. My library doesn’t carry the books, including what appears to be a chapter from a slim Italian volume, Magna Roma, cibi e bevande di Roma antica. (Google translation: Magna Roma, food and drink of ancient Rome.) I don’t speak Italian, or Latin.

Don’t trust Wikipedia? I don’t blame you—it’s a fine place to begin research, but never where you want to settle an argument. And there is a reason there is no Recipedia. But if you accept this not as history, but as cultural conjecture and a guide to the generous philosophy of minestrone, you stand a good chance of emerging with a hearty, tasty bowl of soup.

So let’s get right to the good part, which is of course marked “citation needed”: “Like many Italian dishes, minestrone was probably originally not a dish made for its own sake. In other words, one did not gather the ingredients of minestrone with the intention of making minestrone. The ingredients were pooled from ingredients for other dishes … plus whatever was left over….”

In other words, minestrone is an improvisational endeavor, a kitchen cousin to stone soup. It is a delicious synergy of surplus produce and lingering leftovers.

We can work with that.

But before we get to the recipe, let’s examine the other critical Wiki-part, also lacking citation: “The introduction of tomatoes and potatoes from the Americas in the mid-16th century changed the soup by making available two ingredients which have since become staples.”

No need for citation, simply because the history checks out: nightshade vegetables didn’t begin to appear in European cuisine until after Columbus opened contact with the Americas.

If you’re experienced at avoiding nightshades, you already know how integral nightshades are to most soups, and that minestrone takes this to the extreme. There is almost always tomato and potato. Usually there are peppers too. Sometimes there is even eggplant.

Minestrone is essentially a vegetable stew, made hearty with beans and grain. So the challenge comes in two parts: Can you skip the nightshades altogether, and come up with a gratifying, healthy soup? Absolutely.

But can you build a minestrone that has a facsimile of the tomato-infused broth, shot through with a chiaroscuro of garlic, pepper, and herbs? I honestly had my doubts, but Beetuto comes to the rescue here, laying down a legitimate tomato like base.

INGREDIENTS

  • olive oil for sauté
  • 1/2 large red onion, chopped
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 rib of celery, chopped
  • 3/4 cup Beetuto
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped vegetables (seasonal veggies work best, but you can work with whatever is available)
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 cups (32 ounces) vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/2 cup uncooked pasta or cooked rice
  • 1 can kidney beans (cannellini beans, rinsed and drained, or 1 1/2+ cups cooked beans
  • 1 cup chopped greens, (spinach, kale, collard greens, or chard)
  • 1 cube of Bright
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnishing (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

1In a large and moderate to heavy bottomed pot, sauté the onion, celery, and shallot in olive over medium heat. Add the garlic after a few minutes.

2Add the carrots and any other vegetables of a similar hardness, like rutabaga, squash, or cabbage. (If you’re adding greens, add collard or kale at this point.) Continue sauté until you reach that point where the oil has been ‘used up.’ That side of the vegetables against the heat might be starting to caramelize a tad, but they are not completely cooked.

3Turn up the heat briefly and add the Beetuto.

4Add the broth, water with bouillon, or even just plain water. The soup will be fine with any of these, but stock is obviously superior and will lead to deeper flavor.

5Add the spices and bring to a simmer.

6Add the beans and bring back to a simmer.

7When the vegetables are close to cooked through add softer vegetables like zucchini and any softer greens like spinach.

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