After half a month (heck, who are we kidding? — it’s more like six weeks) of feasting like a Medici pretending that calories don’t count and that rules don’t apply, we all need a cure.
For me, the solace comes in a steaming bowlful of minestrone, a veritable thicket of winter vegetables. Just preparing minestrone makes me feel healthier, cleaner, lighter. To the uninitiated, minestrone may be just Italian vegetable soup but it is so much more than that.
Start with a base of chopped onion, celery, and carrot, salted and lightly sautéed in olive oil in a covered heavy pot. (Chopped turnips and/or potatoes are also welcome at this stage.) Season with several bay leaves and plenty of thyme. Add diced or hand-crushed canned plum tomatoes, cooked white beans, preferably cannellini, and broth. Partially cover the pot and simmer for an hour or so. Lift the lid and inhale frequently.
Thinly slice some kale, preferably lascinato (a.k.a Tuscan black cabbage), the outer dark leaves of Savoy cabbage, Brussels sprouts or any other mustardy crucifer. Add to the pot and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender.
At this point, you can stir in some ditalini, barley or cooked wheat berries which I was lucky to find in my freezer. Simmer just until the pasta is al dente. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you can, let the minestrone sit for several hours so the vegetables become better acquainted. You’ll discover that the minestrone tastes better the day after making and even better the day after that.
To serve, reheat gently and grate on Parmigiano-Reggiano, or if you really want to go crazy, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. You shall be healed.
Serves 4 to 6
1 large onion, chopped
1 celery heart, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large turnip, peeled and chopped or 1 large potato, peeled and chopped
3 dried bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes with juice
2 cans (15 1/2 ounces each) cannellini beans, drained
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
3 cups water
6 ounces kale or Savoy cabbage, thinly sliced
1 cup ditalini or other small dried pasta
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
Generously coat the bottom of a large pot with oil. Set over medium-high heat for a minute to warm the oil. Add the onion, celery, carrots and turnip or potato. Season lightly with salt. Cover and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes. Do not allow to brown. Stir in the bay leaves and thyme. Cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, beans, broth, and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Cover partially and simmer for about 1 hour, or until the vegetables are softened.
Add the kale or cabbage. Cover partially and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the greens are wilted.
Add the pasta. Cover partially and simmer for 8 minutes, or until al dente. Remove from the heat and set aside for 10 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Grate cheese, and a drizzle of oil if desired, over each serving.