Sunday, 1 November 2015

Winter Minestrone

Winter Minestrone

I know it is early for winter, and currently we are being lucky enough on this god-forsaken island to have relatively mild temperatures (above 10...), but then again this morning I woke up to this outside my window...

I *want to believe* there is a house out there...

... a level of fog unusual for the season and even for London. Eventually it did clear up after a few hours, to sink into darkness at around 4 30pm...which makes for a very short-lived 'day', really...

Today's recipe is 'suitable for vegetarians' and it has no connection whatsoever to this week's WHO finding / statement that 'red meat and processed / cured meats cause cancer' and 'are classified in the same category as cigarettes'. Sensationalism apart, looking at the news in detail, reality is that daily consumption of those (above a certain amount) will increase the relative likelihood you already had to start with. But by no means in the same percentage as smoking would (for a better explanation: Stop Panicking about Cancer Risk).

Which is a relief. But I have to say, being a convinced meat eater (and, as a Spaniard, fan of Jabugo ham, chorizo etc) it would take nothing short of a 'Chernobyl-like' health alert for me to stop eating altogether. So, my recommendation, as for everything else in life: moderation, moderation, moderation. And, whenever possible (it is difficult to establish the origin of much of what we buy), try to buy organic / grass-fed...

...and live a happy life up to your grave...instead of a boring, tasteless but very, very healthy one...

So, enough of the lecturing for the day, and on to business...

Overall prep & cook time: 45 min

Ingredients for 2 people 

  • 700 g of red tomatoes
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 medium-sized potato
  • 1/4 of a small cabbage
  • 1 leek
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 100g of fresh peas
  • a dash of Worcestershire sauce (optional)
  • olive oil, pepper, salt

Main ingredients


1. The minestrone is essentially a tomato soup with seasonal vegetables and beans. I personally don't like the texture of beans within a soup - since too dry and potentially chewy. Adding beans also implies the overall actual cooking time needs to be increased from (currently) 15 - 20 minutes to at least 40 minutes.

Other than that, this recipe is one of the easier ones... the only nag is that it involves an insane amount of chopping

Given it's a soup, try to cut your veggies in fairly small pieces. In the case of tomato, since it will eventually liquify, chopping it in quarters should be fine

2. It goes without saying, but all vegetables need to be rinsed (especially if you leave the skin on, as is the case of potatoes and carrots, with a skin so thin there is no point in peeling)

In the case of leeks, apart from cutting away the harder, green leaves at the end, I recommend slicing it longitudinally and rinsing the dirt between the outer layers of the leak

leek, dirt, layers, rinse
Rinse dirt from inside the layers

3. Last note on peeling vegetables. Some recipes - especially soups - call for tomatoes to be skinned first. For this to happen, the tomatoes have to be steamed first, so that the skin comes off easily. I completely disagree with this practice. First, there is nothing wrong with eating the skin of tomatoes (rather the opposite). Second, I wonder what is left in a steamed tomato - nutritionally speaking. The argument for removing the skins is that the skins will eventually become loose and look 'unappealing'. To me, this does not matter. But I leave the possibility out there for whoever *is* bothered by the tomato skins


4.  As always, the 'harder' vegetables should go first so they have some time to soften. Pour 5 - 6 tablespoons of olive oil into a large pot, bring it to a medium - high heat, and throw in the potatoes, cabbage and carrot.

Potato, carrot and cabbage

Give it ca. 4 - 5 minutes (stirring, so nothing burns / sticks) until it looks more or less like this:

The above, just starting to cook

And then add the leeks

Finely chopped leeks added into the mix

5. The tomatoes / garlic, being the softest of the vegetables will go in a few minutes after this, once all the other vegetables have had time to soften and release the flavour

Tomatoes and garlic

6. Tomatoes will cook quickly, but you still want to keep them cooking over a low - medium heat for a while (10 - 12 minutes( so that the flavour concentrates and the juices are released. 

Also, only add the salt and pepper once the volume has reduced: as with other dishes, if you add it at the beginning you might run the risk of overdoing it

Add seasoning about now

7. At this stage you might want to add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce, which I find adds a bit of colour and flavour to the soup. This condiment is quite concentrated and has a strong flavour so go easy on it or it will overpower the soup. Also - this is a warning - if we want to keep the soup 100% vegetarian, Worcestershire has extract of anchovy, so shouldn't be used. In any case, as I mentioned before - the soup does not really 'need' it

For those who think that, upon my using of Worcestershire sauce, my transformation into a Brit is finally complete, and I am lost for good in all matters of cooking, I have to say: maybe there is no such thing as quality Brit cooking tradition, but if you can nick a couple of good things and add them to your dishes, why shouldn't you?

Worcestershire sauce, a British staple

8. As you can already see, the tomatoes will add the 'liquid' part to the soup, but still there will be the need to add some water. How much depends on your taste. I personally prefer, especially for winter soups, fairly 'thick' soups, so for the amounts mentioned above I added about 200 ml of water

A bit of water to get the soup to the desired consistency

9. Bring it to a boil for about 2  - 3 minutes and add the peas then

Peas are the last stage of the soup

The peas are definitely not seasonal (and actually come - if the label is to be believed - from Kenya), but I find they add a nice colour to the dish, and I for one like cooking with colours...

They can be replaced by broad green beans, incidentally

Peas will cook - since the soup is already (semi-) boiling in about 3 to 4 minutes

10. And you are done: tasty, hearty and delightfully healthy! (and meat-free!!!)

End product: a super winter minestrone!