I just love the word Autumn. It makes me feel all warm and cozy inside, much like a good bowl of soup. The truth is, Minestrone is awesome no matter the season. There is a wonderful little place in town, Espanol Restaurant, that starts each meal with a big bowl of Minestrone Soup served family style. The price of your meal includes soup, salad and beverage (usually coffee). Yes, it’s a strange name for an Italian Restaurant – but that’s a story for another day. Although Espanol has been in business since 1923, it began serving authentic Italian dishes (including their awesome Minestrone) in 1959. Sometimes I like to pop in for the soup alone – it’s that good. My guys order the entrees, while I eat all the soup they can serve up. In my humble opinion, there is no such thing as too much soup. I could eat hot soups every day in the fall and winter and cold soups the rest of the year. However; Hubby is not a big soup eater – when offered soup or salad, he usually opts for the salad. Kiddo likes cream based soups and chicken soups so long as they aren’t too heavy in vegetables. I adore just about every kind of soup, except borscht or cabbage. I don’t mind a little cabbage in the soup as a minor player. As for borscht – beets are not my thing, no matter how you fix them.
Hands down, a good Minestrone Soup ranks right up there among my all-time favorite soups. But then, I’m a huge fan of all things Italian. The first time Dad had Minestrone Soup was recently when we all had lunch together at Espanol. Dad asked what Minestrone was, to which my brother-in-law responded “Italian for anything leftover in the kitchen.” Food is not something you can joke about with Dad – go too far and he won’t even try it. I find it’s best not to answer his questions directly, but simply encourage him to give it a try. “It’s Italian vegetable soup, Dad. You’ll like it.” And he did.
Traditionally speaking, there is no such thing as a traditional Minestrone Soup. The dish varies from region to region and season to season. Although my brother-in-law said it jokingly, Minestrone was in fact born of leftovers. No one set out to create Minestrone, it was a means of using whatever was left to create a peasant dish that did not let vegetables go to waste. Minestrone has been around since before there was a Roman Empire – and that’s a very long time. What we now know as Minestrone Soup, with a variety of vegetables and usually including some form of pasta, has been around since about 2 BC, when the Romans conquered Italy. It wasn’t long before the Romans monopolized all means of commerce and a vast network of roads. This control (all roads lead to Rome) opened the floodgates of goods to Rome. With this came a broadened available seasonal foods throughout the empire. And so it was that Minestrone grew to include a wider variety of vegetables and a meat based broth, more closely resembling the soup we know today.
As I begin this post, my pot of Minestrone soup is simmering in the next room. The smells are incredible – and it has my mouth to watering. What a great end to a wet weekend!
Autumn Minestrone with Tortellini
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 medium carrots, diced
4 celery stalks, chopped
1 medium zucchini, diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 sprig of rosemary, finely chopped
1 cup of kale, chopped
5 small or 2 large gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
1-15 ounce can Fire-Roasted Italian tomatoes
4 cups beef stock
Fresh Pepper to taste
Cyprus Sea Salt flakes to taste*
15 ounces Cannelloni Beans
1 package Cheese Tortellini
* Cyprus Seas Salt flakes are known for their large pyramid shaped crystals. Light and fluffy with the mild taste characteristic of Mediterranean salts. If you don’t have Cyprus Sea Salt flakes, coarse sea salt is fine.
Use a fine grater to grate the garlic, set aside. Finely chop rosemary, set aside. (If you have small cups, this works really well to hold the garlic and rosemary until ready to add to the soup).
Chop kale and set aside. Peel and chop potatoes. Cover potatoes with cold water until ready to use.
Cut onions, carrots, celery and zucchini into nice chunks. Set aside.
In a 12-inch heavy bottom sautée pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions, carrots, celery, zucchini and sauté until the vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes.
Add the grated garlic and rosemary, cook for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent the garlic from burning and becoming bitter. Transfer contents of sautée pan to a large soup stock pot.
Drain potatoes, add to the now empty sautée pan. Add kale and Italian Tomatoes including liquid. Over medium heat, bring to a simmer and cook until the kale is wilted, about 5 or 6 minutes. Empty potato mixture into stock pot.
Add the beef stock and fresh ground pepper to stock pot. Stir well and taste. Add salt as needed. Bring to a steady simmer and cook for about 25-30 minutes until potatoes are tender. While soup simmers, drain beans and set aside.
Add tortellini and beans, return to a low boil and continue to cook for about 6 minutes, until pasta and beans are nicely warmed.
Taste and adjust seasonings. If not salty enough, add a pinch or so of salt.
Serve hot with freshly shaved Parmesan cheese.