Did I ever tell you that at one time I was a vegetarian? I know it’s hard to imagine, dear Readers, but it’s true. Like a lot of earnest, idealistic pseudo-hippie type teenagers I too, went through a non-meat-eating vegetarian phase.
That’s when I learned how to make minestrone. It was about that time that I started taking more of an interest in learning how to cook on my own—and obviously learning how to make recipes that I liked veg-friendly. I made a lot of soups and spaghetti sauces, to tell you the truth. I always felt a little like a mad scientist, dumping ingredients into a big pot and letting it simmer away–hopefully with a good result at the end. Most of the time it worked. Occasionally it didn’t. Like when I accidentally dumped dill into spaghetti sauce instead of basil. Hey–they were both green, okay?
This version is not vegetarian because I used chicken broth. But you could very easily use vegetable broth in it’s place. And a complete protein too, because of the combination of beans and pasta. Truthfully, though? If you are a meat-eater, go with the chicken broth–it tastes better.
The making of this soup is pretty much like any other soup. Saute vegetables, add liquid, add herbs, simmer. Finish with the quick-cooking stuff. It seems like a no-brainer now to me, but back then….? I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I just made it up! In fact, back then, I wonder if I even bothered to saute the vegetables?
Now listen up my darlings. PAY ATTENTION. You want to know how to make minestrone, spaghetti sauce or risotto taste extraordinarily delicious?
Oh yes they are. Frozen rinds of Parmigianno Reggiano. Hell, you’ve spent part of your child’s college tuition to buy a decent wedge of the stuff, why toss the ends? Put them in a Ziploc baggie and toss them in the deep freeze. Then when the moment is right, you toss one into the pot.
Don’t scoff. This makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE in a pot of minestrone. Now you don’t need or miss the deep flavor that meat brings.
So, once the soup is tasting delicious, you add all the quick-cooking stuff: Kale, pasta, whatever. Season to taste, of course, and dig in. And don’t forget to take out that Parmesan rind eventually. Now THAT would be an interesting surprise for a dinner guest.
Serve with a sprinkling of fresh Parm.
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 large can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 can cannelini beans, drained
1/2 lb. small pasta of your choosing
1-2 cups kale, chopped
1 32-oz box chicken or vegetable stock
small branch rosemary
salt, pepper, red pepper flakes
In a Dutch oven, heat some olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic and saute until soft and fragrant. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Add the can of diced tomatoes, chicken stock and rosemary. Cover and turn down the heat until the soup is barely simmering. Add the rind of a Parmesan, if you have one, and let cook until the vegetables are cooked through.
Remove the cheese rind. Turn up the heat and add the pasta and kale. Let cook until both are tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Serve with grated Parmesan on top.