Summer harvest minestrone

minestrone-veg-on-black-check

Soup does wonderful things. Just the smell of a pot of vegetables mingling on the stove brings back memories of so many places I have called home. Soup is comfort in a bowl. This particular recipe brings together some of my favorite ingredients from American soil – namely – butternut squash and sweet corn. My mother loved both and I learned more than I could have imagined as a child through her cooking. When I cross the ocean between Europe and the USA during the summer, one of the many things I do to soak up half of my heritage is to go on the look out for bushels of both.

Ingredients

  • 200 grams of dried kidney beans
  • four bay leaves . optional
  • two small red onions . about 200 grams in weight
  • two small carrots . about 200 grams in weight
  • two stalks of celery . about 200 grams in weight
  • two liters water or homemade vegetable broth
  • 12 sprigs of flat leaf parsley
  • two small zucchini
  • two ears of fresh sweet white corn . or canned if not available
  • four red-skinned organic potatoes . about 500 grams in weight
  • one butternut squash . or other seasonal squash available
  • 100 ml of extra virgin olive oil
  • two cans of organic crushed tomatoes . or one kilo of fresh garden tomatoes
  • fresh cilantro . optional
  • Celtic sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • one fresh lime or lemon . optional
  • fleur de sel sea salt flakes

minestrone-vegetable-still-lifeSoak the beans in an abundant bowl of water overnight and rinse them well in a colander the following morning. Cook the beans until tender in a generous amount of water, adding some bay leaves for flavor and a piece of potato to keep the bean skins from breaking open while rehydrating. If making this soup is part of a completely spontaneous plan by the way, take a can of kidney beans out of the pantry – drain them and add to them to the soup once the potatoes are done.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Fill a medium-sized pan with one liter of water. Add a teaspoon of sea salt and bring it to a boil to blanch the corn. Wash the flat leaf parsley and chop both the leaves and their stems quite fine with a sharp knife. Wash the carrots, celery stalks, potatoes and zucchini.  Fill a bowl with cold water. Peel the carrots and potatoes and keep them in the water bowl while preparing the other ingredients. This will keep them from discoloring while at work on the chopping board. Meanwhile, use your vegetable scraps to make two liters of quick vegetable broth,

Shuck the fresh corn (see note below) Blanch it five minutes. Pour the cooking water into the vegetable broth and then remove the corn, setting it aside to cool. Cut the butternut squash in half. Fit it snugly along with the corn into a casserole dish, Sprinkle the squash and the corn with sea salt and pepper and pop the casserole dish into the oven for 30 minutes.  If fresh corn is not available, just add canned or frozen corn too. Or simply switch out these ingredients with some barley or brown rice.

At this point, it’s time to cut and chop to create the minestrone base.

Cut the onions in half and remove their papery skins.  Lay the flat side down of the onions onto a chopping board and cut them into thin wedges. (making sure to add the skins to your vegetable broth.) Dice the carrots and celery into a small dice. Heat the olive oil at medium heat in a soup pot large enough to accommodate all the ingredients. Add a good pinch of sea salt to the oil, followed by the onions, celery and carrots, sautéing them gently for ten minutes or so, until the onions are golden. Dice the zucchini and the potatoes into bite-sized pieces and stir them through the aromatic onion-carrot-celery mixture. This combination of ingredients is also known as a soffritto.

Add the canned tomatoes to the ever-growing colorful pot of vegetables. Turn down the heat to keep the cooking process at a simmer. Last but not least, add the vegetable broth, diced zucchini, fresh or canned kidney beans and potatoes to the other ingredients. Cook the vegetables in the broth until tender, about 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the flavors to mingle. The soup will be decidedly better if allowed to cool completely, but should definitely sit on the stove at least one hour after cooking.

Meanwhile remove the butternut squash from the oven. Scoop out the seeds and set them aside. Spoon out the roasted pumpkin flesh and drop it into the soup.  Remove the corn from the oven and cut it into nice rounds, or simply slice along the husk to remove the kernels. Stir the roasted corn into the soup. Taste the soup for the right balance of flavors. Add a drizzle of olive oil, some sea salt, freshly ground pepper and even some fresh cilantro. Gently reheat the soup if needed, or simply serve it at room temperature !

Enjoy the wealth of a meal made with vegetables.

Suggested combinations

Serve the minestrone with some thinly sliced garlic cloves, some rounds of fresh spicy peppers, a pinch of sea salt flakes, a few cherry tomatoes, and even some zucchini ribbons. Brighten the flavor by adding a few drops of freshly squeezed lime juice at the table. I love a slice of freshly baked cornbread with this American style minestrone.

Notes on shucking corn

Corn on the cob is covered with a papery outer skin. The corn itself is wrapped with silky strands that stick to the corn kernels and tend to fly everywhere when removing them. Just a word of advice — if at all possible — shuck the corn outside. The rest is fun and easy.

Using a paper bag to keep track of all the outer layers of the corn, simply peel back the leaves at the top of the husk until you see the tip of the cob and its tiny kernels. Grip the bottom of the cob with one hand and pull the leaves and corn silk downwards with the other, snapping them off at the base.  Repeat until the fresh corn is revealed and free of the outer leaves. Rub the silk strands off the corn or rinse them under cold water.  The corn can now be cooked or roasted.

P.S. 
This recipe is my twist on one of Jamie’s 10 Food Revolution recipes. I gladly contribute to Mr. Oliver’s campaign as super ambassador of the Food Revolution. I too feel that teaching and passing on cooking skills to friends and family makes life not only more meaningful but infinitely more valuable on an emotional level. Read more on this here.

minestrone-family-sized-bowl

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