That beautiful bowl of color up there is minestrone soup, Ina Garten's. I never liked minestrone growing up—it always seemed watered down, even with plenty of Parmesan and salt. I'm not sure if these memories are of homemade or canned soup, but either way, minestrone didn't make much of an impression. Alex, on the other hand, has nothing but excellent memories of minestrone. He thinks it was his grandmother's, but he is equally unsure about the origin; it also could have been Progresso. At any rate, he keeps requesting it, and so this morning I made a pot. The worst that could happen, I figured, is that he could eat it all himself.
Ha! Fat chance. Sally took one bite and then ate two bowls in rapid succession. I devoured mine, then mopped up the bowl with a piece of toast. Alex said I told you so.
I chose Ina's recipe because she does not skimp on anything, particularly flavor. Also, she calls this a winter minestrone, and she's right: pretty much everything in it is something that can be found locally this time of year. Bacon, celery, carrots, onions, garlic, spinach, and squash are all going strong at the farmers' market, and we have plenty of dried beans, crushed tomatoes, and chicken stock put up.
In fact, no one even asked for grated Parmesan or salt. If I could take it back all those years of minestrone-hating, I would.
And finally, a picture. Meal by meal, Nora is increasingly insulted that we do not make her a bowl, and today she looked especially bereft. Soon, kiddo.
This is a thick, hearty soup, but it's not overly rich or filling. It's jam packed with winter veggies, and in our house it's a great way to get Sally to wolf down things like squash and onions that she sometimes turns down when they're cooked up individually.
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces bacon or pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 cups diced carrots
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
2 and 1/2 cups diced butternut squash
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
3 cups crushed tomatoes
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
2 cups cooked beans (cannellini, great northern white, or garbanzo are nice)
2 cups cooked small pasta
5 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup white wine
optional: pesto or grated Parmesan for serving
Warm up the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot. Add the bacon or pancetta and cook for 5-8 minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. Add the onion, carrots, celery, squash, garlic, and thyme and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the veggies start to soften. Pour in the tomatoes and chicken stock, add the bay leaf, and season with salt and pepper to taste. (You probably won't need much salt if you have a high-sodium broth, so keep that in mind.) Bring everything to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and let the soup simmer uncovered for thirty minutes, or until the veggies are tender. Just before you're ready to eat, add the beans, pasta, baby spinach, and white wine. Bring back to a boil and serve hot. Top with a dollop of pesto or grated cheese if you like. Toast makes a nice accompaniment.