Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mandatory Minestrone

Since Congress isn't doing much anyway, I believe it should pass a federal law stipulating that all Italian restaurants in the U.S. must have minestrone soup available any time they are open. I'm very weary, and wary, of "Italian" restaurants that do not have minestrone soup on their menus. I suspect and fear that some of these restaurants worry that minestrone isn't hip enough. Imagine almost any kind of popular music without a bass-line, which isn't hip but necessary.

For minestrone purists, any time is the right time for minestrone, but for generalists, I will concede that the temperature outside should probably be below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

The best recipe I know for minestrone is Marcella Hazan's. I've been using it for at least 20 years. When I cook guests a meal, they rarely if ever expire, but they also rarely ask for a recipe. When I serve the minestrone, they often ask for the recipe.

I'll try this from memory, but to be sure, find Hazan's book, Cooking the Italian Way. What does this have to do with poetry? Minestrone soup is a poem.

Get a big old stock pot, preferably cast iron. Chop about one half a yellow onion finely, and sautee it in olive oil and butter, quite a bit of the latter. Then chop the following vegetables finely, and add them one by one to the simmering onion, butter, and oil, stirring for a minute or so between additions: a cup of carrots, two cups of potatoes (two small potatoes, finely chopped), two cups of zucchini squash, two cups of white Italian beans (Cannelini, I think they're called--canned is fine; cook your own if you're a purist), a cup of green beans (French cut, chopped further), and three cups of finely shredded Savoy cabbage. Finally, add just 2/3 cup of Italian stewed tomatoes, with the juice. I think those are all vegetables, but double-check. By the time you stir in the last of the vegetables, you'll think you'll have a thick vegetable stew on your hands, and you will, because there's not all that much liquid yet. Don't panic, but if you get nervous, add a bit of red wine. And we're simmering, remember. Then add somewhere between 4 and 6 cups of beef broth, or vegetable broth, if you're a vegetarian. Hazan calls for six, but sometimes six seems like too much. Minestrone shouldn't be watery. Spices I like to add almost at any point are a bit of powdered garlic (or fresh and sauteed, if you like), rosemary, parsley, and pepper.

Then add the rind of Old School Parmesan or Romano cheese. Yep, right into the soup. It will not disintegrate; it will add much flavor and body. Put the lid on the pot. Leave a wee gap, if you like. Simmer.

The genius of this minestrone, in my opinion, is that it's both more rustic and more complex than what you get in most restaurants--which is usually a quick-and-dirty, tomato-dominated soup. You'll note that there's only a hint of tomato in Hazan's. Simmer it for as long as you like, hours. Keep an eye on it. Mainly, you don't want it to boil excitedly, and you don't want it to be watery.

Serve it with some bread, and with some freshly grated Parmesan on top of the soup. Red or white wine, or water, your choice. Need something more hefty (the soup holds up well as its own meal): some pasta, maybe, or some grilled Italian sausages.

Hazan's minestrone has a quasi-spiritual effect on people, even those who do not have Italian or Sicilian background of some kind. The soup comforts and nourishes. The chopping and stirring and observing take quite a while, but they're worth it--a fine food-favor to do for your family, friends, and other loved ones. A food-poem.
Post a Comment