No. 2: Winter Minestrone

My mom is a great cook.

I know, I know. We all say this about our amazing moms. But this fact has been verified by millions, thousands ... definitely hundreds of people in her cooking history. When Joanne is bringing a dish over, or having you come to dinner, you get excited.

Her speciality is working with fresh, local ingredients. Her source? My father's incredible garden.

When we moved to a 40-acre piece of pristine prairie pasture in my middle school years, dad's pleasant little backyard pastime became a full on hobby. (This was my backyard).

Garden shot

Dad still grows enough food for ten people, not the two living at home. My parents set up what is akin a farmstand at church during the summer to give away produce.

Below is a small taste of the cornucopia that is their spring/summer kitchen. Add three more bowls of squash to what you see, and you start to get the picture. And yes, those are freshly canned beets.

Cornucopia So, so good. They send me some every once in a while.

Winter Minestrone

When I read this recipe (also from Foolproof) it was like going home. This is exactly what my mother would cook on a cold night in Kansas. And she would pull all the garden veggies straight out of the deep freeze to do it.

For us San Francisco Bay folks, cold is a relative term. We'll say there was a bit of chill in the air when I was getting ready to make this.

This thick stew/soup was excellent for some New Year's Eve recovery. It also called for wine, hooray! I was happy to open a bottle to keep the 2014 celebration going.

Ingredients

Good olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, diced
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
2 cups diced carrots (3 carrots)
2 cups diced celery (3 stalks)
2 1/2 cups diced peeled butternut squash
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
26 ounces canned or boxed chopped tomatoes
6 to 8 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf*
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked small pasta
8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup good dry white wine
2 tablespoons store-bought pesto*
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

*I love bay leaves. One is never enough. I put in two and never looked back.

*I was so proud of Ina when I read store-bought!

To make

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the pancetta and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.

Add the carrots, celery, onions, squash, garlic and thyme and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.

Veggie simmer

(This smelled heavenly)

Add the tomatoes, 6 cups of the chicken stock, the bay leaf, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.

Discard the bay leaf. Add the beans and cooked pasta and heat through. The soup should be quite thick, but if it's too thick, add more chicken stock.

Last simmer

Just before serving, reheat the soup, add the spinach, and toss with 2 big spoons (like tossing a salad). Cook just until the leaves are wilted. Stir in the wine and pesto. Depending on the saltiness of the stock, add another teaspoon or two of salt to taste. Serve large shallow bowls of soup with a bruschetta on top. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, drizzle with olive oil, and serve hot. Serves 6 to 8.

The results

This soup was divine. Hearty, earthy, healthy, all my favorite things. The broth alone is wonderfully complex and it went well with the Sauvignon Blanc I had put in it.

Winter minestrone

But I did change a few things.

First of all, I cut the recipe in half. There are two people in my house, not eight! I still used two bay leaves and two cups of pasta though. Because, well ... because.

Mr. McCormick has a mild carrot allergy (we think), so I replaced 1/2 the allotted carrots for more squash. Very good.

I used low sodium chicken stock, but found that the saltiness was perfect at the end. I just added a bit more pepper.

Instead of making bruschetta, I served this with plain croutons on top for some crunch and then added the Parmesan.

The verdict? We'll be adding this to the standard winter rotation of good eats in the future.

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Send me your thoughts, comments and ideas at theresolvedcook@gmail.com