Thursday, January 10, 2013

Winter Minestrone

Wouldn’t it be nice if problems, worries, responsibilities, and chores would magically disappear after waking from a deep sleep? I am so ready for that to happen… My work visa is expiring soon and the deadline for the extension is on early February, a mere 5 weeks away. Due to budget constraints, I have a feeling that my work place is not going to extend their sponsorship. So I have been job hunting since last week, hoping that within the next couple of weeks, someone will be interested in hiring me for next school year. It is difficult to know where to start… updating my resume, making myself sound super awesome in my cover letter, answering endless questions on online job application websites, and so on. I have a job to do and the stress of job hunting is too much to bear. Many times I find myself biting my lips, restraining my hands from pulling my hair, keeping myself from banging my head on the wall, and from breaking out into a sobbing mess. Securing another job before the deadline is the most viable option to stay in the US right now and I need to get my act together to make this happen. Heaven help me!

Early Sunday morning, I woke up and made a big pot of soup. I stood for two hours, chopping, stirring, tasting, and hovering over my pot. It was nice, meditative almost… Making soup that morning renewed my soul and allowed me to take my time and breathe. During that moment, I forgot about my worries and felt thankful instead. Thankful for the tranquility that I felt and needed amidst my time of crisis. Most of the time it is so easy to give in to the feeling of frustration and it distracts us from what we should be focusing on. Taking ourselves away from this negativity is the most helpful way to get ourselves back on track and pay attention to what needs to be done. My problems are far from gone, but throwing a fit is not going to do me any good. I need to take a deep breath, clear my mind, and put my efforts into what needs to be done. Making a big pot of soup is a very good thing to do when experiencing some trials. I can attest to that.      

In Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food, she has summer, fall, winter, and spring recipe variations for minestrone, the classic Italian soup. Using the fresh ingredients that I had, my minestrone is a combination of the fall and winter variations, with some other ingredient substitutions and omissions. Minestrone is a soup that can be made throughout the year and is best when made with seasonal ingredients. One can never go wrong with good ingredients. Plus, soups are very forgiving. Just remember to taste as you cook so you know what is missing or what you’ve added too much of. If it’s bland, add more salt. If it’s too salty, add more water and another cup of vegetables or so.

My minestrone is made with French green lentils instead of beans and I absolutely love the result! The lentils added a very pleasant nuttiness and heartiness to the soup without making it too heavy. The soffritto or flavorful stir-fried vegetable base is composed of common soup ingredients: onion, celery, carrot, parsnip, kale, bell peppers, garlic, thyme, a bay leaf, and salt. Other ingredients that were added into the pot later in the cooking process are potatoes, boiled cabbage, and fresh parsley. The combination of everything makes for a tasty, robust, and textured soup. Extraordinarily delicious in a simple and heart-warming way! Soul food, if you may call it.   

Winter Minestrone (Makes 8-10 servings)
Inspired from Alice Waters’ Minestrone, The Art of Simple Food

½ head of cabbage, chopped into thin, bite-size pieces (I used purple cabbage)
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup French green lentils
5 cups cabbage cooking water
tough first layer of onion skin
½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced

4 large garlic cloves, minced
6 small bell peppers or 1 medium bell pepper, diced (I used small red and orange bell peppers)
4 stalks kale, coarsely chopped (stems included)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons salt

3 cups of water
½ lb yellow potatoes, chopped into bite-size pieces (two small potatoes)

½ cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped (stems included)
½ teaspoon salt (to taste)

Fill a medium size pot over half full of water. Bring the water to a boil and throw in the salt. Cook the cabbage in the salted, boiling water over medium heat, uncovered. The cabbage is done when it is tender, about 6-8 minutes. Set a colander over a large bowl before draining the cabbage to save the cabbage water for cooking the lentils. Leave the cabbage in the colander.

Pour 5 cups of the cabbage water back into the pot along with the lentils. Use the tough, first layer of the onion to add flavor to the liquid that the lentils will be cooked in. Don’t chop that tough onion layer so you can easily remove it later. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. When it is boiling, turn the heat down to medium low and let simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are done, 30-35 minutes. When the lentils are done, remove from heat and set aside. Discard the tough onion layer.   

Meanwhile, prepare and cook the ingredients for the soffritto. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, throw in the chopped onion, celery, carrot, and parsnip. Lower the heat down to medium low and let cook for 15 minutes, stirring every now and then.

While these vegetables are slow cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Add the minced garlic, chopped bell peppers, kale, dried thyme, bay leaf, and salt. Keep the heat on medium low and cook for 5 minutes, stirring every now and then.

Pour 3 cups of water and the chopped potatoes into the pot. Partially cover the pot and turn the heat back to medium. Cook for 15 minutes.

Add the cooked lentils along with all of its cooking liquid, the boiled cabbage, and fresh parsley and cook for 5 minutes, uncovered. Turn the heat down to medium low and let cook for 5 more minutes. Add ½ teaspoon of salt or a bit more to taste. Turn the heat off and serve warm.

This soup is lovely and satisfying by itself. However, if you’re feeling fancy and want some crunch along with it, then make some of these Parmesan Croutons by Ina Garten.

Parmesan Croutons (Makes 20-24 croutons)    
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Parmesan Croutons, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

1 baguette
olive oil
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper    
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Place an oven rack in the middle slot then preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Lay parchment paper on top of a baking sheet.

Cut the baguette into ¼ inch thick slices. Using a pastry brush, brush olive oil onto both sides of the baguette slices. Place the slices on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle the slices liberally with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then sprinkle freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top of the slices.

Bake for 15-18 minutes until the edges of the baguette slices turn into a nice, golden brown color. Serve at room temperature. Warning: As soon as these babies come out of the oven, it is so tempting to grab a crouton and bite on it. Please don’t, it is crazy hot… so wait until it has cooled down before doing so, promise?  

These Parmesan croutons are great with soups and salads!

Enjoy this deliciously satisfying meal during these cold, winter nights.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness, what a stressful time! I'm wishing you all the best, I hope you get to stay in the US!
    And this soup looks fantastic! I don't know if I've mentioned this, but I have never made soup before! It must be done before winter is over ;)


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