March 17, 2013

Creamy Minestrone Soup

Soup is just one of those things that should not come in a can!  I'm not trying to be critical, but I honestly don't know how anyone can eat that stuff.  The main flavor is........salt.  There's just no comparison to a homemade soup full of fresh, flavorful vegetables.  It's definitely healthier, not to mention, it's economical.  You can make a large batch (that will last for days) for about the same that a few cans will cost.  Soups are also so easy to make, you really can't go wrong with them.  The one thing though that really speeds up the process is to have all your vegetables cut up the night before.  I rarely think to do this, but it really is a time saver!  So anyway, as I mentioned in my last post, I can't believe with all the soups I've made, I've never made a minestrone.  Well, while on vacation recently, I had the joy of leisurely sifting through recipes I've been wanting to try.  I knew we'd be welcomed back to Michigan with freezing temperatures and a big pot of soup would be just what we would need.  The two minestrones we tried were both excellent, although a little different from one another.  The previous post is pretty typical, very tomatoey and savory.  My whole family enjoyed it, although I'll probably omit the Aleppo pepper next time-it has a little bite to it.  This one was our favorite!  It was inspired by a recipe from Cook's Illustrated.  I changed it up a bit and added a little whole milk towards the end which gives it more of a creamy broth.  Delicious!  The kids loved it!

table salt (to brine the beans)
1/2 pound dried Great Northern beans
(about 1 cup) rinsed and picked over
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 ounces pancetta, finely diced
2 medium celery ribs (about 3/4 cup),
cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium carrot (about 3/4 cup),
peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium onion (1-1/2 cups),
finely diced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/2 small head green cabbage, halved, cored,
and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 cups water
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 piece of fresh Parmesan cheese,
(about 5 by 2 inches)
1 bay leaf
1-1/2 cups V8 juice
1/2 cup whole milk
Grated Parmesan, for serving

To prepare the beans:  Pour 2 quarts of cold water in a large bowl.  Add 1-1/2 tablespoons salt and stir to dissolve.  Add the beans and allow to soak for at least 8 hours, or overnight.  Drain and rinse well.  To start the soup:  Heat oil and pancetta in a large Dutch oven.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the pancetta is lightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the celery, carrot, and onion and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 5 to 9 minutes.  Be sure to stir frequently.  Now add the garlic, cabbage, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Cook a minute or two until cabbage starts to wilt.  Place vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.  Add the soaked and drained beans to the Dutch oven, along with the water, broth, Parmesan, and bay leaf.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat, but keep up a vigorous simmer (this will help the beans thicken the soup).  Stir occasionally, and cook until beans are fully tender, and liquid begins to thicken, about 45 to 60 minutes.  When the beans are fully cooked, add reserved vegetables and V8 juice to Dutch oven.  Cook until vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes.  Remove bay leaf and be sure Parmesan has completely melted.  Add 1/2 cup whole milk and stir.  Season with salt and pepper, if desired.  Top with grated Parmesan.  Delicious!

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