Monday, February 28, 2011

Minestrone Soup

Mama's Minestrone Papa's Italian Restaurant (Prescott, AZ)

Earlier this month we followed blue skies and sunshine down the Oregon coast, continued into Southern California and headed east into central Arizona. Sunny weather encouraged photo shoots and outdoor activities, but the snow on the ground in Prescott reminded me that February is still a winter month. Brrrr, break out the parkas and mittens and order comfort food for dinner. 

Our hostess at the terrific Prescott Pines Inn recommended nearby Papa's Italian Restaurant, and I could hug her for that suggestion. We arrived early on a typically busy weekday night and without a reservation, but were welcomed like valued customers and scheduled for a table later in the evening. No problemo, since our inn was nearby and we could enjoy a glass of wine sitting front of our cozy fireplace. Note to self: phone for reservations at popular restaurants.

"Mama" greeted us like old friends and quickly brought complimentary bowls of today's minestrone soup to the table. Mmmmmm, what a lovely way to warm up on a freezing night. The soup was so good, we each ordered another bowl instead of a salad with our dinner entrees. RL enjoyed his baked ziti, smothered in a rich, meaty ragu. I swooned over my chicken piccata with linguine, gleeful that the serving was large enough for both of us to enjoy at lunch the next day. Truly, everything pleased, but top honors went to the soup.

I have spent years searching for the ultimate minestrone recipe, rich with layers of flavor but not too heavy. My latest version is tasty, but doesn't compare with Mama's. I'll share my current recipe, but remember - it's still a work-in-progress. 

Yield: 2-3 quarts

½ lb Spicy or Mild Italian sausage (your choice!)
2 cups canned white cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup water
3 TB. extra virgin olive oil
1/8 lb. Salt pork, diced small
1 medium onion, minced
¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsely, minced
4 large garlic cloves, pressed
1  14 ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
6 cups beef broth (more if necessary)
1 large carrot, diced
2 large celery stalks, diced
3 cup coarsely chopped greens (kale, swiss chard or dinosaur kale)
½ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped just before you add to soup so it doesn't turn dark
2 small to medium zucchini, cut lengthwise then crosswise into bite-sized chunks
2 generous cups cooked cavatappi (or other small pasta)
freshly grated parmesan and asiago cheeses mixed and added as garnish

  1. Cook Italian sausages in a grill pan or under the broiler. Let cool then slice into coins. Set aside. 
  2. In a food processor add 1 c. beans and 1 c. water and puree. Set aside. 
  3. In a 4-5 qt. pot add salt pork and brown slowly over medium heat. Add olive oil, onion, carrots and celery; cook until just soft about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Add pureed beans, tomatoes with their juice, broth, parsley and remaining whole beans. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. 
  4. Add greens and when they’re soft and wilted add the fresh basil and zucchini. Cook for 5 minutes and then add the cooked and sliced sausage and the cooked pasta; heat through for a few minutes and garnish each bowl with the cheese mixture in whatever amount you desire! If soup is too thick add more stock. 
  5. This recipe makes enough to freeze. Don't add the pasta to any portion you are going to freeze; wait until you thaw and reheat the soup.
Care to share your your favorite minestrone soup recipe?

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