Thursday, 7 June 2012

Winter soup to warm your heart

The northerners might be saying ‘winter is coming’, but for this wussy Sydney sider, winter is here. There might not be snow, but the ugg boots are certainly out, the electric blanket is on and the heater is working overtime. So that means its time for soup. 

I don’t often make soup, but when I do, I usually go back to the same recipe. It's delicious, it feels like home and it's hearty but not heavy. It's perfect comfort food, but healthy. One of those dishes, that if someone’s sick, I’ll usually make this for them. It’s Minestrone verde, which is basically a fancy way of saying green Minestrone. And because it's super simple, it's a great one to whip up during the week and make your colleagues jealous by bringing it in for lunch. 

Ingredients, serves 4
A good slug of olive oil
100g pancetta
2 nice big zucchini’s
1 lovely leek
1 bulb of fennel
100g, or there abouts, of spaghetti (if you don’t want to use spaghetti, that’s fine. Just use any small sized pasta you want)
2 litres (or 8 cups) of chicken stock or water. I use stock.
1 tin cannellini beans
1 bunch broccollini
100gm curly kale (I can never find this though…)
1 cup basil leaves

Some optional extras:
Any other lovely green vegetables you want to add
A couple of chicken breasts
Fresh, crusty bread (which I unfortunately had none of, so had to settle for what I had in the cupboard)

I always start this by chopping up all the vegies, so they are ready to go. You don’t need to be precise, I like this dish a bit rough. Just chop them however big or small you want them. I tend to make it a bit chunky.

So, chop up your 100g pancetta, chop up your two zucchini’s, slice your leek, thinly slice your baby fennel, cut your broccolini, slice your 100gm curly kale if you managed to find it, and tear up the 1 cup of basil. 

At the same time, strain and rinse the tin of cannellini bean and chop up any other green vegies that you want to add in. If I’m wanting soup that’s a bit more filling, that’s when I add the chicken, and at this point I’ll just chop it up as well. 

Now you have everything ready to go, it’s time to start cooking. Heat the good slug of oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Don’t be too worried if it isn’t heavy based, just make sure it’s nice and big! And don’t skimp on the oil either. It adds lots of lovely flavours. 

Put the chopped/diced/slices pancetta, zucchini, leek and fennel in the pan. Cook it over a medium-high heat until the zucchini and fennel are soft. This should be around 5 – 10mins. Have a bit of a taste and season with salt and pepper. Remember, your stock probably has salt in it, so don’t over-season. 

Break your spaghetti in two, and add it into the pan (or add in whatever pasta you’ve decided to use. Add in your 2 litres (or 8 cups) of stock or water, the chicken if you’re using it and bring the whole thing to the boil. If there’s any other vegies you’ve added in that need a bit of cooking, add them in here. Reduce the heat a little, and simmer it, stirring once in a while, until the chicken and pasta is cooked. 

Finally, add in the drained and rinsed beans, the broccollini and kale, and cook it until the broccollini is a little tender. Have another quick taste to see if it needs any more salt or pepper, and you’re done. That’s it. Easy.

Just ladle out a big bowl, and serve with a buttered, toasted slice of fresh crusty bread and enjoy. 

I sometimes find I run out of liquid with this dish, so if that happens, I just add in a bit more water or stock as and when I need it. You don’t really lose any flavours, but if you want, just re-season with some salt and pepper.