Italian Minestrone Soup

 

This hearty minestrone is easy to make and totally worth the effort.
The recipe calls for seasonal vegetables and affordable pantry ingredients you can find in any local grocery store, making it budget friendly. Like an Italian minestrone soup, this recipe is loaded with vegetables, beans, spinach and ditalini pasta. The soup packs great for lunch, and tastes even better the next day. You can make this dish dairy free, gluten-free and vegan friendly. Just see the following  Cook’s Notes.  This recipe calls for about 24 servings, so just know that it also freezes and defrosts well too. It is extra nice to have on hand in the freezer on during those days when you feel like being a lazy cook in the kitchen, especially during the winter months.

Serves 24

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 cup of small diced pancetta bacon
2 peeled and small diced yellow onions
4 finely minced cloves of garlic
2 thinly sliced leeks, optional
4 medium diced stalks of celery
4 peeled and sliced carrots
1 peeled and medium diced turnip
1 peeled and medium diced parsnip
½ small diced bulb of fennel core removed, optional
3 peeled and large diced russet potatoes
Three 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes in juice
Three 15-ounce cans of drained cannellini beans
128 ounces of chicken stock
3 parmesan cheese rinds (See Cook’s Notes)
2 cups of frozen peas
2 cups baby spinach, chopped kale or chopped collard greens
juice of 1 lemon
2 pounds of cooked and cooled ditalini pasta (See Cook’s Notes)
Salt, to taste
Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese and fresh oregano and rosemary sprigs, for garnish

 

Directions:
In a very large pot or stockpot over medium heat add in the pancetta and cook until browned and crispy. Set aside the pancetta lardons.

Add in the onions, garlic, leeks, celery, carrots, turnip, parsnips and fennel to the pot and sauté for 10 to 12 minutes.

Add in the potatoes, tomatoes, beans, stock and cheese rinds and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Add the peas, spinach, lemon juice, cooked pancetta, salt, and pepper.

To serve, ladle into bowl and garnish with parmesan, oregano and rosemary, if desired.

 

Cook’s Notes:
Minestrone soup is subject to change based on what you have and what’s in season. This minestrone soup recipe may look completely different in the summer since things like zucchini, yellow squash and squash peak in are that season. For the Spring, you might want to use peas, green beans and leeks for the soup. As for autumn seasonal vegetables, potatoes turnips, butternut squash, also work for this recipe. Basically, whatever vegetables you have on hand will work in this recipe. Left over vegetables will also work in a pinch too.

Grains or Pasta: Italian minestrone soup can also use things like farro or cous cous as the grain or pasta in the soup, such as orecchiette, elbow or small shell pasta. To make this soup gluten free, you can also substitute your favorite sturdy gluten-free noodle, such as DeLallo’s Whole-Grain Rice Shells.

Parmesan Cheese: The Parmesan cheese rind is not a necessity, but it will add some delicious umami flavors to the soup. You can add grated Parmesan to the soup as a substitute, or shredded Parmesan can be added as a garnish.

However, if you want to make the soup dairy free and vegan friendly, do not use Parmesan cheese or the pancetta. Most Parmesans are not technically vegetarian because they contain animal rennet. As a reliable substitute, Whole Foods 365 and Bel Gioioso brands do offer vegetarian Parmesan cheese, and both will work really well in this recipe.

How to Reheat: To reheat the minestrone soup simply add your desired portion to a small sauce pot and heat over low heat until hot. You can also simply add your desired portion to microwave safe bowl and heat for 2:30 stirring after 1:15.

How to Store: Minestrone soup will hold well in the refrigerator covered up for up to 5 days. It will also freeze well covered for up to 3 months. Simply pull it out as you need it and reheat following the directions above.

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White Asparagus Soup with Butter Poached Lobster Tails

Did you know that asparagus has been used as a vegetable and as an ancient medicine, due to to its distinct flavor, and in medicine due to its diuretic properties and its purported function as an aphrodisiac. It is pictured as an offering on an Egyptian frieze dating to 3000 BC. In ancient times, it was also known in Syria and in Spain. Greeks and Romans ate it fresh when in season, and dried the vegetable for use in winter. Roman Epicureans froze its sprouts high in the Alps for the Feast of Epicurus. Emperor Augustus created the “Asparagus Fleet” for hauling the vegetable, and coined the expression “faster than cooking asparagus” for quick action.

By 1469, asparagus was cultivated in French monasteries. Asparagus appears to have been little noticed in England until 1538, and in Germany until 1542. 

Asparagus was brought to North America by European settlers at least as early as 1655. Adriaen van der Donck, a Dutch immigrant to New Netherland, mentions asparagus in his description of Dutch farming practices in the New World. Asparagus was grown by British immigrants as well; in 1685, one of William Penn’s advertisements for Pennsylvania included asparagus in a long list of crops that grew well in the American climate. sparagus became widely available in America during Colonial times, and was a particular favorite of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson enjoyed  asparagus while he was Minister to France. Given how much asparagus grew in his gardens at Monticello, he often served it for dinner to his guests at his Virginia plantation.

White asparagus is so loved in Europe that its fleeting appearance in the spring from, April to early June, is a cause for celebration and rushing to the farmers market or grocery store to make sure you get a few bunches before they are gone.

I discovered a bunch of white asparagus in my freezer. I had purchased them early in the spring at a farmers market. Not wanting them to go to waste, I blanched them and froze them, thinking I would use them soon…..

When white asparagus is out of season or not readily available, you can also used canned white asparagus or white asparagus that have been commercially prepared and packed in a jar. For the most part  asparagus prepared this way has been  pickled and can be stored for several years. Some brands label shoots prepared in this way as “marinated”. You can also purchase marinated  white asparagus on line from gourmet specialty food shops like EuropeanDeli.com, which sells LANDSBERG WHITE ASPARAGUS . Personally, I like to use the Roland Brand of White Asparagus Spears. The asparagus is packed in an 11.6 oz tall glass jar. They are carefully chosen to ensure a smooth texture, but remaining firm to the bite and touch. Their color is slightly off-white, almost ivory in color. They make a delicious salad appetizer with a light vinaigrette. Use in quiche or alone as a side dish. Traditionally prized in French or German cuisine, white asparagus is now used in many vegetable, salad and seafood dishes.

But what is the difference between white and the more common green asparagus?

Compared to green asparagus, the locally cultivated so-called “white gold” or “edible ivory” asparagus, also referred to as “the royal vegetable” .White asparagus has a milder flavor, is more tender and is grown underground. As a result of applying a blanching technique while the asparagus shoots are growing  underground, the shoots are cultivated by  being covered with soil as they grow, i.e. “earthed up”.

Since white asparagus does not get any light,  photosynthesis cannot take place and the shoots do not produce chlorophyll, hence the unusual color .The apical meristem does not fully develop, leaving the appearance to be short and sometimes stumpy.

Only seasonally on the menu, asparagus dishes are advertised outside many restaurants, usually from late April to June.  Freshness is very important, and the lower ends of white asparagus must be peeled before cooking or raw consumption. For the French style, asparagus is often boiled or steamed and served with Hollandaise sauce, White sauce, melted butter or most recently with olive oil and Parmesan cheese. Tall, narrow asparagus cooking pots allow the shoots to be steamed gently, their tips staying out of the water.

In Southern Germany, entire menus are dedicated to this springtime spear. During the German Spargelsaison or Spargelzeit (“asparagus season” or “asparagus time”). Schwetzingen , Germany claims to be the “Asparagus Capital of the World”, and during its festival, an Asparagus Queen is crowned. The Bavarian city of Nuremberg feasts a week long in April, with a competition to find the fastest asparagus peeler in the region; this usually involves generous amounts of the local wines and beers being consumed to aid the spectators’ appreciative support.

In Germany, roadside stands and open-air markets sell about half of the country’s white asparagus consumption. The asparagus season in Germany traditionally ends on the 24th of June.

An interesting way to use this treasured vegetable is in white asparagus soup or spargelsuppe in German. This soup highlights the delicate nature of the white flesh and is a great way to start any meal. In this version of spargelsuppe, the soup is made from puréed white asparagus and broth with some cream added.

To make the soup more interesting and suitable for serving as a special occasion meal, butter poached lobster tails was added to the dish.

Serves 2

Ingredients:
For the Parsley Oil:
1 bunch of fresh Italian Flat Leaf Italian Parsley
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the Asparagus Soup:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup vegetable broth
4 to 6 white asparagus
Salt, to taste
Ground white pepper, to taste
A splash of white wine

For the Lobster Tails:
2 uncooked lobster tails
2 tablespoons water
1 stick salted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces

For Garnish:
Blanched green asparagus spears
Watercress
Zest of 1 lemon

Directions:
For the Parsley Oil:
Blanch the parsley, stems intact, for 10 seconds. Drain and cool under cold water and dry on paper towels. Place in a blender along with 1 cup of the olive oil and blend completely.

Place a chinois over a 4 cup Pyrex measuring cup. Pour the paste into the chinois. Using a spatula, press firmly on the paste to release the oil. Alternatively, you can arrange a coffee filter over another glass jar Secure the filter over the jar with a rubber band and use a ladle to carefully pour the parsley oil into the filter. Just know that the draining will take 24 to 48 hours. Pour the oil into a clean sterilized jar and cover tightly and set aside until ready for use.

Note: The parsley oil can then be used in a vinaigrette, in cold soup or to garnish chicken or fish. It will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week.

 

For the Asparagus Soup:
Trim about 1⁄2” from the woody ends of the asparagus. Lay spears on a work surface, then peel thin skin from each with a sharp swivel-blade vegetable peeler, starting 1 1⁄2” from the top and running the length of the spear. Spears are brittle and can snap when peeled in midair. Cut the asparagus into slices.

Heat a a medium saucepan over medium low heat; add the butter. Add the asparagus and gently sauté them in butter. Stir in the broth and the cream, increase the heat to a gentle boil and cook for 5 minutes or until the asparagus is completely fork tender. Season with salt and white pepper.

Puree the soup in batches in the blender. Place a clean kitchen towel over the lid and hold down the lid, so the hot soup does not splatter, and return the soup to the pan. Alternatively, you can use an immersion hand blender and puree the soup directly in the pan.

Add a few dashes of white wine if you think the soup needs acidity. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and white ground pepper, if needed. Cover and keep the soup warm.

For the Lobster:
Use sharp kitchen shears to cut shell of lobster all the way down its back. Turn over and cut bottom shell all the way down. Peel off shell and remove the tail meat.

In a sauce pan, bring 1 tablespoon of water to simmer over medium-low heat. Whisk in 1 piece of butter. When butter has melted, add another piece. Continue with remaining butter pieces, one at a time. Make sure the mixture does NOT come to a boil, otherwise the butter will separate.

Keeping the heat on medium-low, add the lobster pieces and cook for 5 minutes, turning the lobster pieces every minute or so. Make sure mixture does not boil. Remove lobster from the poaching butter and set aside.

To serve, ladle soup into warmed bowls. Arrange three asparagus spears in the soup. Lay the lobster tail on top of the asparagus spears. Add a few drops of parsley oil. Garnish with spicy cress and lemon zest, if desired.

 

Cook’s Notes:
You can use fresh chives as a substitution for the parsley in making the oil, if desired.

 

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GREEK VILLAGE SALAD (HORIATIKI SALATA)

Horiatiki salata, or Greek Village Salad is a classic Greek salad that is simple, rustic and chunky, and it’s tossed in homemade Greek dressing!

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch dice (about 1 cup)
1 red or green bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 large English cucumber, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 red onion, cut into thin slices
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled or cubed
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped
2 to 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

To a medium serving bowl add all ingredients; toss gently to coat. Taste and adjust seasoning with vinegar, salt and pepper.

Serve immediately or transfer to refrigerator in an airtight food storage container for up to 3 days.

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