Sunday, March 7, 2010

Hearty Homemade Minestrone

Deliciously hearty and comforting on a cold night, homemade minestrone is SO much better than canned soup that it's worth the time it takes -- plus, this recipe makes a big pot's worth, so you'll have plenty of leftovers (and the flavors will develop in the fridge, meaning it'll be even better the next day). I've adapted this recipe from the one on the back of a package of Cassoulets U.S.A. brand dry canellini beans. The recipe does not call for salt, and I didn't think it needed any since it's seasoned with bacon and Parmesan cheese (as well as herbs). But go ahead and taste it when it's ready to serve, and feel free to add a little salt if you prefer. It does take about two to three hours from start to finish, but it's very easy and you can prep each batch of ingredients while each stage is cooking, making it ideal to start on a weekend afternoon and enjoy at dinnertime.

1 lb dry cannellini (white) beans
2 medium carrots, chopped (about a cup)
6 slices bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces (I used natural bacon)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cabbage, sliced (I used 1/4 of a medium head)
1 medium zucchini (or 2 small)
1 heaping tsp dried basil, crushed
1/2 tsp dried rubbed sage
1/2 tsp seasoned pepper (or freshly ground black pepper)
3 oz fine noodles (I used whole wheat angel hair pasta, broken into pieces)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Bring about 4 or 5 cups of water to a boil. In the meantime, pick over and rinse the beans, and place in a large stock pot. Pour enough boiling water over the beans to cover by 2 inches. Cover the pot of beans and let soak for an hour. While the beans are soaking, peel & chop the carrots and set aside, and slice the bacon and cook until crispy. Remove the bacon pieces onto a paper-towel-covered plate to drain, and leave about 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings in the frying pan.

After the beans have soaked for an hour, drain, rinse and return them to the stock pot. Add 7 cups of fresh water and the sliced carrots. Cover, bring to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender - start checking them after 30 minutes of simmering.

While the beans and carrots are simmering, chop the onions and celery, and mince the garlic. Cook the onions, celery and garlic in the 2 Tbs of bacon fat over medium heat until tender, stirring from time to time, then drain off any excess fat (if using natural bacon, you might not have any excess fat). While these veggies are cooking, slice the cabbage and set aside, and slice the zucchini into half-moons and set aside.

Once the beans and carrots are tender (could take 30 to 60 minutes), add the sauteed onions and celery and garlic, along with the sliced cabbage and zucchini. Add the herbs and pepper, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil - if the soup seems too thick, feel free to add a little more water. Once the soup is boiling, stir in the noodles and simmer for about 10 minutes until the noodles are tender (again, feel free to add more water if soup seems too thick). Stir in the bacon, then taste for seasoning and add salt if desired. Ladel into soup bowls and top each serving with grated Parmesan cheese to taste (I used 1 to 2 tsp per bowl).

Zestfully yours,
Carolina Sauce Company

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