January 7, 2014

Minestrone with Fregola

There are times when no recipe will do other than the one you grew up enjoying. This is exactly the feeling I have about recipes for Thanksgiving and and dishes like Minestrone soup. My grandmother, Thelma, made this thick and hearty soup almost as frequently as she made her delicious Mandel Bread. Let's face it, they were really the only two recipes I remember her preparing. But quantity doesn't really matter when those that you are left with are really that good.

This particular recipe was a challenge to get onto paper. Now that I have been recreating  Thelma's recipe for over 20 years, I feel that this challenge was due to the fact that it is truly one of those pinch of this-handful of that sort of recipes that preceeded Fannie Farmer. Yet it always seems to turn out the same...hmm. When my mother and I invited my grandmother over to get this family favorite on paper, I recall trying to keep up with her as she was throwing vegetables in the pot along with water measured in empty tomato cans. It wasn't 4 cups of water, it was a couple of cans. It wasn't a zucchini, but maybe a few hand fulls. I suppose that is why I manage to find such beauty in in the simplicity of this basic recipe. It represents all that is real in cooking without a detailed road map to follow along to perfection. You have to just look at it, taste it, and trust your instincts to see that it might just need more water, mushrooms, zucchini, and/or beans, and that is just fine because it always seems to work out. How comforting is that?

As I cannot seem to leave well enough alone, I have played with the use of noodles in the recipe for years. I love how the macaroni or baby shells that my grandmother used look in the freshly made soup, but I can't stand how they fall apart into unrecognizable pasta flecks after reheating or freezing. I have made this recipe with whole wheat and white varieties of macaroni, orzo, and conchiglie with great success before reheating. I have also attempted breaking away from pasta altogether making the recipe gluten-free by using wild rice and brown rice. But to stick with pasta, the best choice for me would be fregola. Fregola is a type of pasta that is typically made from semolina dough that has been rolled into little balls and toasted. It works beautifully for Minestrone soup because the fregola stay completely intact regardless of freezing or reheating.

If you have a need to add further flavor or variation to this soup, try swirling in a spoonful of basil pesto to your bowl at the table.

Minestrone Soup

Makes about 6 quarts

For all ingredients, please consider using those that are grown organically or without pesticides.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
6 carrots, chopped
6 celery stalks, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
16 ounces cremini or white button mushrooms, sliced
3 zucchini, sliced
2  28  ounce cans chopped tomatoes
2 quarts vegetable stock or purified water seasoned with 2 bouillon cubes
2 quarts purified water
3  15 ounce cans beans, white or red kidney work best, drained
2 cups

fregola or small whole wheat pasta, orzo, macaroni, or small shells

for gluten-free- use brown rice, wild rice or combination of the two


**If you are like me and do not want to be bothered with too much vegetable prep, I encourage you to pull out your food processor. The vegetables with not look as uniformly pretty, but its fast and easy. Begin with the onion and move through by vegetable in order of use. There is no need to wash the work bowl between them as they are all going together in the pot in the end. Use the metal blade for the onions, carrots, and celery, and switch to the slicing blade for the zucchini and mushrooms.

Warm the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and a sprinkling of salt and cook for about 10 minutes while stirring occasionally.

Add the carrots, celery, dried oregano, and dried basil to the onions and cook for another 5-10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, stock, and water and cook for about 10-15 minutes or until the mixture begins to simmer.

Add the zucchini and mushrooms and cook until they begin to submerge into the broth. They will all float to the top of the pot for the first 10-15 minutes.

Add the beans and pasta and cook for about 30-45 minutes longer. Note that some noodles will begin to break apart after long periods of simmering.

Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.

The soup will hold nicely refrigerated for up to 5 days. I always freeze about two thirds of the batch in quart size containers or zip bags for those days that I do not feel like cooking.

My family and I returned from a recent holiday road trip (10 hours in the car)/vacation at around 1:30 in the morning feeling tired and hungry. It was great to have this soup in the freezer as the refrigerator was fairly empty after being gone for two weeks. We lit a fire, got into our pajamas, and dinner (or perhaps I should say breakfast) was ready. We also had some bread that was in the freezer to go along with this always comforting meal.


Minestrone made with whole wheat macaroni.

Categories: Beans & Legumes, Fall & Winter, From The Garden, Gluten Free, Pasta & Risotto, Soups & Stews, Vegan Entrees, Vegetables

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