My first and possibly only regular type date started at an Italian family restaurant in Norwich, on a rainy Bank Holiday evening. You might feel I had left dating a little late, and you would be right, but all I can offer in my defence is a) I went to an all girls High School before arriving at UEA; b) conventional dating didn’t really exist amongst the youth of Yarmouth and c) restaurants were expensive on a student income, especially because in those days men felt responsible for all costs. Anyway, we commenced our official relationship with minestrone.
Taking a quick tour of the internet before writing this recipe I realised that there are wildly different ways of approaching this buxom vegetable soup. Some, incredibly to me, have no tomato (isn’t that a minestre?) The subject of stock is heated. Some include ham and cheese. So, if you are happy with your own recipe there is no need to change. But, for anyone who has never made minestrone before, you might want to start here:
- Ingredients: This is what I used, plenty of substitution is possible – 4 small carrots, 2 shallots, a large slice of celeriac, 2 slices of raw beetroot, 2 new potatoes, a couple of leaves of cavallo nero, a few slices of endive, half a red pepper, half a dried chilli ancho, 4 or five tomatoes, a tin of tomatoes, a tin of cannellini beans, a small mixed bunch of fresh oregano and thyme, the same of basil, 2 cloves of garlic, approximately 30 ml olive oil, salt and black pepper. A handful of dried ‘soup’ pasta – pastini- I used trofie here.
- Method: Wash and peel the vegetables. Chop the shallots, dice the dried chilli and shred the leaf vegetables and herbs. Finely dice all the other roots to make a battuto (mirepoix). Leave the garlic whole and roughly chop the tomatoes.
- Pour most of the oil into a large heavy pan, on a medium low heat. Add the shallots and garlic, then all the diced root vegetables, the herbs, chillies and the fresh tomatoes. Stirring often, leave to cook until the vegetables are softening and nearly done. Remove half the diced roots into a bowl, then add a can of tomatoes, a can of water and half a can of rinsed beans to the pot. Throw the remaining beans on top of the diced vegetables you have set aside.
- Let the soup pot simmer away for 20-30 minutes or until the vegetables are overcooked. Take a potato masher and carefully mash everything to make a thickened soup base. Add a handful (not too much) of trofie. Return the diced vegetables, with the remaining beans, shredded cavallo nero and endive. Simmer for another 15 minutes or so, testing to see when the trofie are ready to eat. Check the seasoning.
Serve alone, as here, with shredded basil leaves and olive oil, or pesto and parmesan, with croutons, or something on toast.
I was deliriously happy and glowed in the cinema queue when we met another ‘couple’. The movie was a double feature – The Wicker Man and Don’t look Now – both so scary I still shudder at the thought. But not chosen so that I would hide in his jumper – at least I don’t think so.
‘Bangers and mash – Minestrone‘ Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren