Hello out there. Hello!
I'm ready to clear the cobwebs from this space, look January in the eye and give up my routine of salads and juices in Myanmar for soups and roasts in Munich.
Myanmar was all that I ever hope for a vacation to be. It was the type of trip that makes me wish that I was always traveling. It made me forget that there were plants waiting for me at home to be watered and deadlines to be met.
It got me up early in the mornings to watch the sun rise, stroll through ancient temples, eat mohinga and go on long hikes. It fed me well, slowed me down, taught me new tricks and gave me a long list of foods to try my hand at at home and topics to read about. I hope to tell you more about it all soon.
I came home to a city dressed up in winter. As it often happens, the drop in temperature combined with nearly three weeks of mostly rice and a stomach ache from a long flight home made me crave Italian food.
The first thing I made was a bit pot of minestrone. It sat on the stove for a couple of days and kept me good company at lunchtime, with some toasted sourdough on the side. I followed Tamar Adler's advice in An Everlasting Meal: "Minestrone is the perfect food. I advise eating it for as many meals as you can bear or that number plus one. (112)"
Minestrone needs no introduction. It is a classic, but that is not to say that it is always well executed. It is a soup that can range from boring and bland to rich and extraordinary. What separates the two? Good ingredients is a no brainer. Lush ingredients are going to yield a lusher soup, which is the great thing about minestrone. It is a soup for all seasons, since the idea is to cook it with whatever vegetables are in season. Because January calls for a heartier soup than say April, I've used potatoes and leek and Swiss chard. A springier version could include green onions instead of leek and beans and peas instead of Swiss chard.
The other difference comes down to garnishes. A good bowl of minestrone should have lots of them - always a drizzle of fruity olive oil, a pinch of crunchy sea salt, fresh herbs and a generous amount of cheese, be it Parmesan or Pecornio or even ricotta. A dollop of fresh pesto can bring the whole bowl to life. Same goes with really good olive oil.
And one last trick: a Parmesan rind. Whenever you are down to the rind, wrap it up in some plastic wrap and throw it in the freezer, saving it for the next time you make soup. This adds richness and more flavour to any soup.
Add a pinch of chile flakes if you want some heat and some pancetta if you want some meat.
Minestrone often includes pasta, of the small variety such as tiny tubes or orecchiette. Because after a vacation I fill enough of my meals with pasta as I get back into the groove of cooking, I decided to leave it out of my soup. Personally I find beans and vegetables enough.
1 cup dried beans (such as borlotti or cannellini)
4 cups (1 liter) water + more as needed
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onions, diced
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 leek, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
4 small potatoes, chopped into chunks
a Parmesan rind
a handful of fresh basil
1 cup Swiss chard, or any other leafy green, roughly chopped
1 can tomatoes
freshly grated Parmesan
a drizzle of good olive oil
fresh basil or parsley
Soak the dried beans in water for a couple of hours or overnight. Drain and rinse them well and then put them in a large pot with 4 cups of water. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the beans are tender. Set aside.
In another large pot heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the red onion, carrot, garlic, leek and zucchini. Cook until everything begins to soften and is fragrant, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Then add the chunks of potato, Parmesan rind, fresh basil, Swiss Chard and the can of tomatoes, juice and all. Give it a good stir and then add the beans and their cooking liquid. The liquid from the beans plus the tomato juice should be enough to cover, but if not add more water.
Bring the pot to a simmer and then leave to simmer until the vegetables are cooked through, the tomatoes have melted (crushing them with the back of a spoon if necessary) and the broth is flavourful, about 60 minutes. Discard the Parmesan rind and add salt to taste.
Serve warm and garnish with freshly grated Parmesan, a drizzle of your best olive oil, salt and pepper and fresh basil.