For those of you who are old enough to remember the band 10CC (and I know some of you are, really I do), those immortal words ‘Life is a minestrone, served up with parmesan cheese’ will conjure up memories of flapping flares, perilous platforms and hideous hairdos. For me, they conjure up an image of a steaming bowl full of deliciousness. To quote more lyrics, forget dancing on the White House lawn, sipping tea by the Taj Mahal, or hanging round in Babylon’s famous gardens…..this morning I was contemplating the contents of the fridge, and wondering how the heck we had so many oddments of vegetables lying around, when I was struck by inspiration: Minestrone Soup. Jamie Oliver does a particularly nice version, with an extremely complicated name: Minestrone d’Inizio Autunno, which translates as early autumn minestrone, so being me, I have adapted it slightly, and this is what we ended up with. Jamie’s ingredients are pretty similar, although his are naturally all squeaky clean and fresh as a daisy, but as this is a Waste Not Want Not post, I felt it should be as authentic as possible (note how I disguised the disgusting bits with some careful balancing in the photo…).
Note: this can be a vegetarian meal by simply omitting the pancetta.
The slightly ragged contents of the fridge/ vegetable box were deployed and my ingredients are as follows:
two sticks of (fresh, get me!) celery, chopped
3 1/2 slightly worse-for-wear carrots , peeled (there goes the yukky bits) and diced
1/2 head of slightly dry-looking fennel, chopped (once again, it’s for flavour, not looks.)
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
a large red onion, diced
a small pack of cough slightly out of date pancetta (optional)
a shrivelled pot of basil from the kitchen windowsill
2 tins of plum tomatoes
a large glass of red wine (many thanks to Old Pete for his Chateau Splott, but it sadly was relegated to the cooking cupboard)
a dubious looking courgette, (peeled, but only if it’s looking really dodgy) and diced
a 200g tin of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
half a bag of not-so-fresh spinach
550ml chicken stock
(55g dried pasta shapes or broken spaghetti – which I didn’t use)
Parmesan cheese to serve
The method is simple.
Gently heat a large, lidded frying pan and add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Place the carrots, onion, fennel, celery, garlic and pancetta (or smoked bacon if you have it), plus the chopped stalks from the basil, into the pan, pop the lid on, slightly ajar, and sweat the mixture for about 20 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent browning. Add the tomatoes, courgettes and wine, pop the lid back on and simmer for another 15 minutes.
Add the beans, spinach and stock and heat through. If you want a really substantial meal, add the pasta at this stage and cook until the pasta is done. If the soup becomes too thick, add a little more water or stock. Season to taste and serve sprinkled with torn basil leaves and a few shavings of Parmesan.
Although I prefer the flavour of the soup with the pancetta, it is just as nice as a vegetarian meal. I also omit the pasta, as I find the meal is just too much with it, I prefer to have some nice crusty bread instead.