Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Minestrone Soup

Vegetarian minestrone soup for a cold dayIt's cold outside, the trains are too expensive to go anywhere and anyway Christmas has worn us all out. What you need is a nice warming soup full of vegetables. This is the way I make minestrone soup; it's vegetarian, possibly vegan and gluten-free (check the stock; use gluten-free pasta) and makes easily enough for four people, or you can freeze the leftovers. If you do, reheat it gently but make sure it's boiling before you serve it.


Ingredients


  • A small red onion
  • A glove of garlic
  • A medium-sized carrot
  • A medium-sized potato
  • Half a medium sized courgette
  • About a tablespoon of decent olive oil
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • A tin of chopped tomatoes
  • A tin of white beans
  • A pint of vegetable stock
  • Something leafy; a cube of frozen spinach, some shredded cabbage or whatever you've got
  • Some fresh basil or parsley, or dried will do if necessary
  • A handful of spaghetti or other pasta
  • Black pepper to season
  • Parmesan for grating

Tips

You need a biggish saucepan with a lid to make this, or you could do it in a slow cooker so that it can simmer while you're out. You don't have to stick to the ingredients listed; use up odd bits left over in the fridge. Lidl extra-virgin olive oil is my favourite; it's about half the price of any of the brands but just as nice if not nicer. Don't be tempted to use any of that blended or 'light' olive oil - it's not much cheaper and it's horrible. A bottle of nice oil from Lidl won't cost much and will last for ages. Same with sea salt - a pot or box of nice stuff is cheap and will last for ages. Lidl don't usually sell it though so you'll have to go to Co-op or somewhere.

For the white beans I usually use butter beans. They're cheap from Lidl and they don't sell cannellini beans which are more traditional. While you're in Lidl get a wedge of proper Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) if you fancy. It's loads cheaper there. You need a decent tin of tomatoes. The Lidl 'Freshona' ones are OK, the 'Simply' ones are very variable. I prefer the 'Cook Italia' brand from Co-op. They're £2 for four tins, so 50p per tin, and are every bit as nice as Napolina.

My favourite stock at the moment is Knorr stock pots. The vegetable one is good, the organic vegetable one better if you can find it. It's not all that cheap, although I've seen it in Lidl and on offer at Tesco. Marigold stock is a cheaper option and is perfectly acceptable; it comes as a powder and you can use as much or as little as you like. It can be difficult to find - try a health food or wholefood shop. If you're not bothered about being vegetarian then you can use anything. Chicken stock is traditional, you could even use an Oxo cube, although I'm not a fan personally.

Time is the key with soup. Start cooking at least an hour and a half before you want to eat, although you can leave it cooking and go and do something else, especially if you have an electric hob. That's what I do.

Method

Peel the onion, garlic, carrot and potato. Wash the courgette. Chop all the veg into small dice; make the potato a bit bigger than the others. Put a decent slug of olive oil in the pan, put the heat on and throw in the vegetables. Add a pinch of sea salt and stir with a wooden spoon. Once it starts to sizzle turn it down to a low-ish heat and put the lid on. Leave for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn it down if it starts to stick to the pan.

If you're using fresh leaves (cabbage, spinach, kale) then add them now and stir it around a bit so that they wilt slightly before you add the stock. Pour the stock into the pan, add the tomatoes and drained beans. I usually give the beans a quick wash before I add them because I don't really want any of the bean liquid in the soup; it smells like dog food - don't know why. Give it a stir, turn the heat up and bring it to the boil. If you're using frozen spinach add it now. Same with dried herbs.

Once the soup comes to the boil turn it down and put the lid on. You're looking for a fast simmer - definitely boiling but not so much that there's any risk of boiling over. Once you're sure that the heat is right then you can leave it for 45 minutes to an hour. Check on it occasionally if it isn't in a slow cooker. It won't look very appetising at first but trust me.

Ten minutes before you want to eat, stir in some chopped basil or parsley, season with black pepper to taste and add the pasta. Stir and replace the lid. I use spaghetti which I break into short pieces as I put it in. You can use any dried pasta really but make it small - you can smash fusilli or penne up by putting it in a sturdy sandwich bag and hitting it with a rolling pin. If you're feeling really middle-class you can buy special soup pasta. I bet Waitrose have it.

Serve in warmed bowls, and add grated Parmesan or other favourite cheese to taste if you like. Some people drizzle olive oil on the top - do this too if you want, although I find it a bit too oily like that. A soft roll to dip in the soup and it's complete. Yum!

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