Minestrone in the colder months is pretty much the perfect meal as it takes on such a nourishing and warming role. For me, winter minestrone is all about root vegetables, winter greens, beans and pasta plus an intense broth with real depth of flavour. The Parmesan rind is optional, but it adds intensity to the soup and really fills out the savoury profile – well worth trying. Ask your favourite Vic Market delicatessen for a piece of Parmesan rind, they will often have some they can give you, or might be able to put some aside for the next time you’re in.
The fresh borlotti beans in this recipe are exceptional in the soup, they become so soft and swollen and creamy in texture (especially the next day). For an optional garnish, toss some kale leaves in oil and a little salt and dehydrate in a low oven until crunchy. Or to really elevate your minestrone even further, crumble over a few hot roasted peeled chestnuts along with the parmesan cheese and extra virgin oil to finish.
Serves 6 to 8 people
250 grams of podded fresh borlotti beans (if you can get your hands on them, or use the dried or tinned listed below)
125 grams small dried haricot or cannellini beans, soaked overnight (or use 250g drained tinned beans, but add them at the end of the cooking)
3 carrots, rough 2cm dice
2 parsnips, rough 3cm dice
1 white sweet potato, rough 3cm dice
2 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
2 large brown onions, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, sliced
3 celery stalks, diced
2 bulbs fennel, diced
1 kohlrabi trimmed and 2cm dice
3cm-thick piece pancetta, diced
1 fresh bay leaf
2 sprigs rosemary
3 tablespoons tomato paste
10cm piece Parmesan rind (optional)
1½L quality chicken stock, preferably homemade (or vegetable stock and leave out the pancetta and pop in 2 parmesan rind chunks whole instead and it becomes vegetarian)
200 grams green beans, cut into 3cm lengths
½ bunch of chard or silverbeet, cut in 2cm widths removing most of the stem,
3 handfuls short pasta, like tubetti or stellini or tiny pasta rings
Grated Parmesan, to serve
Preheat the oven to 180C fan-forced or 200C conventional.
Cook the soaked beans or the fresh borlotti beans if you’re using them in simmering water for 20 minutes, or until just tender – a little bite here is ok, as they’ll be cooked again in the soup.
Meanwhile, toss the carrot, parsnip, sweet potato, kohlrabi and fennel seeds in oil, season and tip onto a lined baking tray. Roast for 25 minutes. They will shrink a little and intensify in flavour.
Add 30mls of oil to a large heavy-based pot over medium heat. Add the pancetta first and fry for 3 mins then follow with the onion, garlic, celery and fennel. Cook to soften and slightly caramelize, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.
Add the bay leaf, 2 whole sprigs of rosemary and tomato paste to the pot and cook for two minutes while stirring and coating the vegetables in the tomato paste. Add the cooked beans or borlotti beans, Parmesan rind, the roasted vegetables, stock and one litre of water and bring to a simmer and cook for 15 mins. Add the green beans and silverbeet and cook for a further 15 minutes. Add the pasta for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Keep an eye on the liquid level, it should be a thick soup but you may have to add a little more water.
Once cooked, adjust the seasoning (remove the Parmesan rind if you like, but it will keep imparting flavour if you’re not serving all the soup at once) and serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and grated Parmesan.
Find everything you need to create your own Winter Minestrone at the following Queen Vic Market traders.