My apologies for making you wait so long for this post! 4 weeks ago you asked me if I had a good recipe with any secret ingredients for Minestrone Soup, and I have left you high and dry until now. How have you survived?
I do, indeed, have a favourite Minestrone recipe. It began with a recipe from my already stated favourite cook book "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" by Deborah Madison. (Have you all bought this yet? You must!) Her Lentil Minestrone was my beginning platform, and I've tweaked it to make it one of my favourite soups.
Now before I give you the recipe, let me tell you a story about minestrone soup. (Bet you didn't know I had a story about minestrone soup. I have a story for almost anything!)
Way back in 1997 when Chris and I lived in Northern California for 6 months, we met a friend who took us to Il Fornaio restaurant in Sacremento. If that wasn't good enough, he actually took us there TWICE! Oh, Bliss! This was an Italian heaven, let me tell you. Now on to the soup part of the story. The first time we went it was November. We went out for my birthday. So nice. I ordered "Seasonal, Vegan Minestrone Soup" as my starter. It was light and tomatoey and full of perfectly diced veggies. Oh.dear.me. with a shaving of parmasean cheese on top....yes.
Then we went again in December just as we were on our way back home. I thought "I must have that perfect soup again before I die" and so I ordered it again. There was not a tomato in sight! It was thicker, heartier, and definitely with potatoes in it. Oh dear me, even better! Who knew? I asked the waiter and he graciously pointed me back to the menu where it said the soup is made with "seasonal vegetables". Of course!
And so my love of minestrone, in all its variations, began with fervor.
Now I have one basic recipe that I do mostly year round, but I do alter the contents slightly during different seasons. And as always, my quantities vary with how many folks I'm serving, and what happens to be in my fridge at the time. Enough preamble: on to the recipe!
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped parsley (Not that I measure it that closely)
1/4 cup chopped thyme (Or a good shake of the dried stuff)
4 garlic cloves, minced
6 carrots, peeled and diced
3 parsnips, peeled and diced
4 ribs celery, diced
1 cup green lentils (or just a big handful, really)
1 cup red lentils (ditto on the handful)
2 bay leaves (optional)
9 cups water, veggie broth, or beef broth
2 cans diced tomatoes (or crushed, for a thicker, more tomato-based soup, or one of each--that's what I usually do)
Good sized Splash of soy sauce (optional, but it gives a depth of flavour, especially if you used water or veggie broth)
Something Green, chopped (you can use fresh or frozen spinach, kale, chard, collards...)
Cabbage, shredded fine (as much as you like: I like lots. My kids? Not so much. Too bad for them! Bwahahaha!)
2-3 cups of small, cooked pasta (macaroni, mini shells, orzo, alphabet noodles...)
(Parmasean shavings to garnish, if desired)
(I know, it looks like a lot of ingredients, but they are just veggies, and you can chop them up and throw them in the pot as you go)
Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Saute the onions until lightly browning. Add the garlic, parsley, and cook another 2 minutes, or so. Add the lentils, bay leaves, thyme, and liquid. Bring to a boil. (while I'm waiting for the pot to boil, I start peeling and chopping, and tossing veggies in the pot as they are chopped.) Once it is boiling, turn it down to a simmer and add all the veggies (including cabbage and greens, especially if they are fresh, not frozen.) At this point you may say "wow Barbara, that was not enough liquid. My soup is way too thick!" You can add more broth, you can add another can of tomatoes, or you can add the water you cook the noodles in (see below). Sometimes the lentils seem to soak up more liquid than other times.
Let simmer until the lentils and veggies are cooked (say 30 minutes). Taste and add salt and pepper and soy sauce to taste. Remove the bay leaves and stir in the pasta, with some or all of the cooking water if the soup is too thick still.
That's all! Now, it can keep simmering indefinitely. And I have made this in the crock pot, omitting the olive oil step at the beginning. Just toss it all in the crock pot overnight on low. Then add the pasta just before serving.
If you want to make it a Winter Minestrone, cut back on the canned tomatoes and increase the broth, and add 3 cups peeled, diced potatoes with the other veggies.
And secret tip: Soup always tastes better on day two, so if you want to make it ahead and reheat the next day that's a good plan. Or just really enjoy the leftovers! Also secret tip number 2: If the soup tastes a little bland right away or the next day, but you don't think salt will help, try squeezing the juice of a lemon into the pot. It won't taste really lemony in the soup, but it will make the flavours POP!Enjoy!