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Author Notes: To me, minestrone is great comfort food. This version features crispy pancetta, creamy cannellini beans and sumptuous roasted tomatoes. It also blends chicken and beef stock, which I think offers the best flavor and depth. I cook the pasta separately and add it to the soup bowls just before serving, so it is perfectly al dente. This recipe involves multiple steps but is worth the time and effort. The bean technique is inspired by Harold McGee and chef Kelly Myers. —mariaraynal
- 1 cup dried cannellini beans, reserve one cup bean water
- 1 clove peeled whole garlic
- 10 whole peppercorns, a bay leaf, one rosemary branch, a couple sprigs of thyme and sage leaves, tied in a piece of cheesecloth
- 4 ounces pancetta, diced
- 1 cup ditalini, al dente
- 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus extra for tomatoes
- 1 large onion, sliced thinly
- 3 stalks celery, halved, then sliced thinly
- 3 carrots, halved and then sliced thinly
- 4 fat cloves garlic, minced
- sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and crushed red pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, chopped
- 1 zucchini, halved and sliced thinly into half moons
- .5 cups dry white wine
- 1 parmesan rind
- 4 cups your favorite homemade chicken stock, or best-quality boxed
- 4 cups your favorite homemade beef stock, or best-quality boxed
- 8 ounces baby spinach or greens of your choosing
- Parmegiano reggiano, for serving
- For beans: Sort and rinse beans, cover with cold water and soak for at least six hours or overnight. Drain, rinse, and drain beans again. Place beans in a wide, heavy-bottomed, oven-safe pot. Add cold water; cover the beans by two inches. Bring to a boil, skim foam and turn down to a low simmer. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a clove of whole, unpeeled garlic, and, if desired, a extra chunk or two of onion, carrot and/or celery. Tie 10 whole peppercorns, a bay leaf, the leaves from one rosemary branch, a few sprigs of thyme and a few sage leaves into a cheesecloth sachet and add to beans.
- Simmer on the stovetop until beans are tender, anywhere from 40 minutes to two and a half hours -- check frequently during cooking. Remove from stove, add sea salt to taste and allow beans to cool in their liquid. Check seasonings and remove cheesecloth and aromatics. Drain beans into a bowl, reserving 1 cup bean water.
- For tomatoes: Rinse tomatoes and place on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste, combine with hands until well coated. Place in preheated 400 degree oven and roast for about 20 minutes. Remove and set aside.
- For pasta: Bring a pot of water to boil, season well with salt and cook pasta until al dente, approximately 6-7 minutes. Drain and drizzle very lightly with extra virgin olive oil, just to keep it from sticking. Store pasta in a separate container and add to hot soup when serving.
- For soup: Place a large soup pot over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Saute pancetta until golden and crispy. Remove with slotted spoon and drain over paper towels. Spoon out all but roughly three tablespoons of pancetta drippings.
- Season drippings to taste with sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper and crushed red pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Saute onions, celery and carrots until soft and lightly browned, about 15-20 minutes. Add garlic and zucchini and cook for another couple of minutes. Add additional oil if mixture is dry.
- Sprinkle fresh herbs into vegetable mixture and stir well to combine. Toss in the parmesan rind. Deglaze with about a half cup of dry white wine and allow liquid to reduce for a few moments.
- Take 3/4 cup of beans and blend in a food processor with a 1/2 cup of chicken stock. Add to soup pot. Then, pour in remaining chicken and beef stock and the reserved bean water and simmer for an hour, or two if you have time.
- Twenty minutes before serving, add remaining beans, roasted tomatoes, spinach and pancetta. When ready to serve, remove parmesan rind, ladle into bowls and add a few tablespoons of pasta to each bowl. Sprinkle with parmesan and serve.
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Brown Bag Lunch
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Minestrone/Soupe au Pistou
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