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~ Rainy Days & Lazy Fridays: My Winter Minestrone w/Anelletti Pasta & Garnished w/Parm & Pancetta ~

IMG_4576After almost two months of weather-related captivity, I am declaring a ban on weather forecasts. They stop now.  I will no longer listen to them or watch them.  It's high time I stood up to these masters of disasters.  I've wasted precious time allowing them to affect me.  I am a domestic goddess -- this title comes with priviledges.  I do not have to go outside.  From this day forward:  

"What happens outside, stays outside.  All that really matters each day is what's cookin' on the inside!" ~ Melanie

Today is a soup day.  I decided to make minestrone because I am hungry for it.  It has nothing to do with the whipping wind, gray skies and semi-frozen downpour.  Today is a soup day.  That is all I am focusing on.  That is all you need to do.  Soup days are happy, slurpy, feel good days!  

A bit about minestra (mih-NAYS-truh):  In Italian, "minestra" is the word for "soup", more specifically, a vegetable soup that contains some sort of greens and frequently beans. "Minestrina" ("little soup"), means the soup is thin and brothy.  "Minestrone" ("big soup"), means the soup is thick with chunky ingredients.  All are frugal, seasonal and relatively quick-to-make. They start with on-hand, pre-prepared stock (beef, chicken, seafood or vegetable) to which fresh vegetables, greens, herbs, tomatoes, cooked beans and/or pasta get added.  Bits of cooked proteins (beef, chicken or seafood) are often "thrown in" too.  I say "thrown in", because these soups are known as a culinary hodgepodge of ingredients.  Some folks include the week's leftover vegetables and meat -- this is indeed frugal, but I prefer to start with fresh ingredients.

IMG_4619Minestrone:  A seasonal soup with many faces!  

A bit about minestrone (mih-neh-STROH-neh):  When I and most Americans think of minestrone, we envision a rich, well-seasoned, colorful vegetable soup with beans and pasta added to it.  It is traditionally served as a hearty main course, topped with shavings of parmesan cheese and rustic bread for sopping up every drop of broth.  If you were lucky enough to learn to make it from an Italian, you know that amost anything can go into it.  If you've never made this soup before, you need to know there are no authentic or etched-in-stone recipes (so don't panic when every recipe you read is different).  Minestrone recipes are creative and personal.  

The thing to remember is:  it is seasonal and should be prepared using in-season vegetables. While this means that every time you or I prepare this soup the recipe is likely to change a bit, some of us have our favorite Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer combinations. This recipe is my Winter minestrone and I use homemade beef stock to prepare it.  My other versions include chicken-based for Spring, seafood-based for Summer, and, vegetable-based for Fall!

IMG_43252  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 

IMG_43141/2  pound pancetta, finely diced (a cured but not smoked, spiced "Italian bacon")

2  cups diced yellow onion

4 large, minced garlic cloves, more or less (I use 4.)

1/4-1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes (I use 1/2.)

IMG_43552 1/2  quarts beef stock, preferably homemade (Note:  You can find my recipe for ~ Mel interrupts Christmas to bring you: Beef Stock ~ by clicking on the related article link below.)

1  28-ounce can whole, imported Italian tomatoes, the best available, undrained and hand-crushed into bits and pieces

1  14 1/2-ounce can Italian-style diced tomatoes w/basil, garlic & oregano

2  4 1/2-ounce jars sliced mushrooms, undrained (Note:  I love earthy mushrooms, but, I do not love the taste, texture or color of fresh mushrooms when added to this soup.  These work nicely.)

3  cups peeled and sliced into 1/4"-thick "coined" carrots ("discs") 

2  cups 1/4"-thick sliced celery

2-3  15-ounce cans cannellini beans (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained (I use 3.)

4  whole bay leaves

1  medium-sized Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind (optional)

IMG_44521  1-pound bunch Swiss chard, preferably rainbow chard, woody stems and ribs discarded (or saved for something else) and 3/4" "chiffonade" of the leafy greens ("ribbons"), for adding to soup during the last few minutes of cooking, about 8-10 cups

1 pound anelletti, cooked al dente according to package directions, for adding to individual portions

crispy panchetta bits, from above, for garnishing each portion of soup

shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for garnishing each portion of soup

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend*, for seasoning soup at table

* Note:  My homemade beef stock is nicely seasoned with salt and pepper (and bay leaves). The panchetta and Parmigiano-Reggiano, as you know, are naturally salty ingredients.  Because of this, besides adding the red pepper flakes for some additional heat, I do not add any additional salt or black pepper during the cooking process.  Advice:  Season judiciously! 

IMG_4341 IMG_4345~ Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot place the EVOO. Add the pancetta. Over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, saute until  pancetta forms small crispy bits, about 6-8 minutes.  Turn heat off.  Using a large slotted spoon transfer the crispy bits from the drippings in the pot to a paper-towel lined plate.

IMG_4386 IMG_4363~ Step 2. Add the onions, garlic and red pepper flakes to the stockpot. Over medium-heat, stirring frequently, saute until the onion is soft and translucent, but not browned, about 4-5 minutes.  Add the beef stock, tomatoes and diced tomatoes.  Bring to a steady simmer, stirring occasionally.

IMG_4422 IMG_4394Step 3. Add the mushrooms, carrots, celery, beans and bay leaves*.  Adjust heat to a gentle simmer and cook until carrots are tender, 12-15 minutes...  

... In the event you hoard Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rinds in the freezer (like IMG_4430Italians do), now is the time to take one and throw it in to simmer with the hodgepodge! 

* Note:  My homemade beef stock is nicely seasoned with bay leaves, so, I add these four leaves in the last stages to boost that same flavor (rather than overpower it).

What you're about to read next is a bit different than how many recipes finish their minestrone, but, as I said:  minestrone is personal!

IMG_4490~ Step 4.  Remove stockpot from heat, cover and set it aside "to steep", for 1 hour.  Meanwhile:  

Prep the Swiss chard leaves as directed and cook the anelletti as the package directs. Rinse and drain the pasta.  Note:  I do not cook my pasta in the soup.  Why?  I like my leftovers tasting as good as the first day.  Pasta cooked in the soup today will be mushy tomorrow!

IMG_4493~ Step 5.  Return stockpot to the stovetop and return to a simmer over medium heat.  Add the chard and simmer until tender and cooked through, about 12-15 minutes.

To serve, place a  1/2 cup scoop of pasta in each serving bowl and ladle 2 cups of minestrone over the top.  Garnish each bowl with a few shavings of Parm-Regg and a sprinkling of crispy pancetta bits:



Rainy Days & Lazy Fridays:  My Winter Minestrone w/Anelletti Pasta & Garnished w/Parm & Pancetta:  Recipe yields 6 quarts of soup and 8 cups of cooked aneletti (for a total of 8 quarts if you add the two together), or, 12, hearty, 2 1/2 cup servings. 

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; large slotted spoon; paper towels; colander; soup ladle

IMG_4631Cook's Note:  Here is another reason why I cook my anelletti separately and not  in the simmering minestrone.  The leftover soup, can be portioned into 2-quart containers and frozen for Joe and I to enjoy on other rainy days!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)


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