Friday, October 27, 2006

Minestrone With Fresh Borlotti Beans and Farro

This vegetarian soup calls for only water as the base liquid, so we have some tactics to make it really flavorful: 1. the rind from a used piece of parmesan cheese infuses flavor into the soup as it cooks, 2. herbs like bay, rosemary and thyme spice it up and 3. a “Batutto” of aromatic vegetables browns in olive oil so that, when the water is added, you already have a delicious golden broth. I have tailored the ingredient list to my own tastes, omitting the canonical green beans (yeck!) and zucchini (not in season here) and replacing them with fennel and dried Chinese mushrooms. Rather than pasta or rice, I have used the Italian wheat-like grain “farro” (a.k.a. emmer or spelt) which I find hearty and delicious. Finally, I couldn’t resist buying some fresh borlotti beans at the market, so I’m using those. If you plan to use dried beans, be sure to soak them the night before and cook them separately to tenderness before adding to this recipe. Minestrone is a very flexible dish. Add to or subtract from the soup ingredient list as you wish.

Serves A Small Army
Ingredients of the batutto:
2 carrots
1 large onion
2 celery ribs
2 garlic cloves
¼ cup olive oil
5 dried Chinese mushrooms

Soup Ingredients
8 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 tsp chopped rosemary
piece of Parmesan cheese rind
5 dried Chinese mushrooms (optional), diced
2 carrots, in a small dice
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
½ cup farro
1 leek, halved longways, carefully rinsed and horizontally sliced thin
2 celery ribs, diced
3 savoy cabbage leaves, sliced thin
5 leaves of Tuscan kale (a.k.a. dinosaur kale, cavolo lacinato), sliced thin
2 lbs fresh borlotti beans in their beautiful pink-and-white pods, shelled
1 sm or ½ large fennel bulb
1 28-oz can of chopped tomatoes (or peeled whole tomatoes that you squoosh between your fingers)
½ tsp thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Serving accompaniments:
High quality extra virgin olive oil to drizzle on top and Parmesan cheese to grate

Place the carrots, onion, celery and garlic from the batutto ingredient list into a food processor and process until you have a paste (in Italian, a batutto). Heat the oil in a large stock pot and add the paste. Heat the oil in a very large frying pan or a wide sauce pan over medium heat. Add the vegetable batutto and cook until all the vegetable liquid has evaporated and the mixture starts to fry in the oil. Meanwhile pulverize the Chinese mushrooms in a spice grinder and add the mushroom powder to the batutto. Once the batutto begins to brown, add 8 cups of water, the parmesan rind, the bay leaf and rosemary and bring to the boil. Add the diced carrots and mushrooms (from the “Soup Ingredients” list) cook for 5 minutes, add the potatoes and farro, cook for another 5 minutes. Add the leek, celery, cabbage, kale, fresh borlotti beans, fennel and can of tomatoes and cook for another 30 minutes. Music to cook all hose vegetables by: "Meat is Murder" by the Smiths. If your soup is getting too solid, add water. Check for salt periodically, add thyme, salt and pepper. When the 30 minutes is up, the soup is ready for a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of parmesan but next-day leftovers will be even better!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've heard about adding the rind of parmigiano into a soup, but never thought to give it a try. I bet that added to the dish!

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey! This is the first time I look at this blog.. it's really nice! Congratulations.. looking at your pictures of the Italian markets almost made me cry.. I miss them so much. I'm from Turin, but I've been living in NC for 2 years. I love cooking and I must say your Italian dishes look really perfect and authentic! Brava!

5:01 PM  
Blogger hellomelissa said...

that bottom photo is making my mouth water. and how clever to choose meat is murder! just so long as that wasn't the theme song to the goat-on-a-spit series you did. :)

7:33 PM  
Blogger Lea said...

you know... I just realized half of what you eat I've never even tried before... O_O

10:41 PM  
Blogger Tracie P. said...

god bless the barlotti! i can't find them here anymore :(

10:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the way the beans look!

Soup looks delicious. Just right for this upcoming winter.


1:39 AM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Rowena, Yeah, the parmesan rind does a lot for the dish

Hi Chemcookit, Thanks a lot! The markets are my favorite thing about Italy. Are you getting into barbecue in NC?

Hi Melissa, He he! I wanted to put a smily-face after "Meat Is Murder" but I was afraid that would look like I was making fun of vegetarians. Certainly can't call myself one, though.

Hi Lea, Do you have access to the stuff, though?

Hi Tracie, Don't tell anybody, but I took these pictures weeks ago. We don't have fresh borlottis here either, shhh!

Hi Paz, Yes, this warms you right up on cold days.

4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've a really rotten cold and this soup looks so inviting!

11:05 PM  
Blogger Kalyn Denny said...

Does sound good. I haven't ever seen barlotti beans here though.

4:44 PM  
Blogger a.c.t. said...

Aww that brought back some memories, my Nonna always used to save the Parmesan rind to put in soups. You keep these soup recipes coming I'm going to make this or the radiccio one this week.

8:09 PM  
Blogger a.c.t. said...

* Radicchio - che sciocca!

8:10 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Lotus, Oh, I hope you feel better soon!

Hi Kalyn, If you want to substitute pinto beans, they'll look more or less the same.

Hi a.c.t., Let me know if you make any of these! I have a hankering for pasta e fagioli (pasta fazool) so I think that'll come up soon.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Alexiev said...

Mmmm... que rico... extraño la comida italiana... estuve el año pasado y la verdad quede enamorado...
(lamento no hablar italiano... solo español)

1:53 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Mira Alexiev, Aqui en este sito, no debes disculparte de deber hablar en espanyol! Estas muy bienvenido a comentar en castellano (o a lo mejor en lunfardo?) cuando quieras!

2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Susan :)
No, not too much yet :) I'm not a huge barbecue fan, although, I must say, I do like the hushpuppies and the coleslaw that go with it :)

4:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I skipped the rind (unfortunately) and added red/yellow peppers, kidney beans, chorizo and some canadian bacon..and some pasta was 'kitchen-sink' minestrone-stew, and it was wonderful!!! Can't wait to eat the left overs tomorrow!!

8:39 AM  

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