I’m writing this on a Friday, after I’ve cleaned out the fridge and made a minestrone with the remains of the produce….a few leeks, a carrot, couple stalks of celery, an onion, a little kale, the last of the beans I cooked this week. Tomorrow is my shopping day and I like to have a clear as possible fridge, plus it reduces our food waste. I love a minestrone as a nutrient dense breakfast, too (call me crazy but I love a good savory breakfast, especially since I usually eat it mid morning).
The word minestrone likely originated pre-Roman age, denoting “minor” and “largeness”- ie taking small bits of leftovers and making them into something big (pot of filling soup to feed everyone in this case). Minestrone was originally born from a style of cooking called “cucina povera”, or kitchen of the poor, where literally nothing goes to waste and everything is reinvented. I have watched my mother, my grandmother, my grandfather prepare and serve this soup a million times over, each cook with their own special techniques and twists that make it exactly their own, all the while honoring the ingredients they have- no running out to the store to get this or that. The only constant is onion, garlic, and beans- “carne dei poveri” my family called them (meat of the poor).
Zero waste doesn’t just mean reducing plastic waste, but also food waste- buying smarter, smaller, and using it all up from leaf to root. It’s not a new concept- our ancestors did this for centuries- we have just forgotten. Some examples of this in action: I save bean cooking liquid as a stand in for broth in soups, Heidi of @zerowastechica saves her pasta water for the same thing, @aintnoplanetb saves her fruit peels for fruity iced tea, I use pickling liquid from radishes for vinaigrette, save veggie straps for veggie broth, and so much more. Broccoli stems and leaves are delicious, apple peels and scraps (if you don’t eat them all) can be saved to make your own scrap vinegar, citrus peels can infuse in vinegar for an all purpose non toxic household cleaner.
frozen scraps for stock
Anyways, back to soup. I love Alice Waters style of easy, intuitive cooking and her gentle instructions which urge you to learn how to cook from the look, smell, and taste of food instead of following a specific “recipe”. So here’s her recipe for minestrone, with a few adaptations from me. I hope you make your own version and enjoy its easy warmth all week. Have a lovely weekend!
cold weather minestrone
makes 8 servings (or double and freeze in 3/4 full mason jars)
1 cup of dry cannellini or other beans, soaked overnight- 24 hours
3 tablespoons good olive oil (optional but adds to flavor)
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
3 cups water
1 leek, diced
1 small can of tomatoes (I used 1/2 a quart of my home canned ones, a scant 2 cups )
1/2 a medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 bunch of kale, washed and chopped
optional: chopped parsley to serve, chili flakes to serve
Cover the beans with water and cook for 1-2 hours at a gentle boil until soft. You can use substitute 3 cups canned beans you need to- don’t drain or rinse them. Reserve bean cooking liquid.
In a heavy bottomed pot (I used my Dutch oven) over medium heat, add:
olive oil, carrots, onion, celery.
Cook for 10 minutes or until tender and turning a bit golden.
garlic, rosemary, sage, salt, bay leaf, tomatoes
Cook for 5 minutes
Add 3 cups of water, and bring to a boil
When boiling, add the leeks and squash
Cook for 15 minutes, or until the squash is tender, then add cooked beans, 2 cups of the reserved bean cooking liquid or more as needed, the kale, and cook another few minutes until the kale is softened.
Season with salt and pepper. If using, garnish with the parm and chopped parsley and chile flakes.
omit the celery and add 1 finely chopped small fennel bulb in its place. Instead of the squash, and tomato, add 1/2 a bunch of asparagus and 1 cup shelled peas or chopped whole sugar snap peas. Increase leeks to 2 instead of 1. Instead of sage and rosemary, substitute fresh thyme, 2 loosely filled teaspoons. Sub fresh spinach for the kale. Serve with lemon wedges instead of the parm.
Increase celery to 2 stalks. Omit the tomatoes. Instead of sage and rosemary, sub 2 teaspoons loosely packed fresh thyme. Instead of the squash, add 1 pound peeled, chopped turnips and 1/2 a pound of yellow chopped potatoes. Instead of the kale, add in 1/2 a green cabbage, chopped into chunks- add it with the turnips and potatoes so it cooks down soft. If the turnips you buy have good looking tender greens, chop those and add in to the pot in the last 5 minutes of cooking. Optional: stir in 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast at the end.