This soup is an ode to the joy of discovering the charms of an herb I use abundantly as a fresh one, but never thought of as a flavorful cooked ingredient: cilantro. It takes on a character I have a hard time explaining but am downright smitten with! I recently created a filling for a roulade for the SF potluck which incorporated many of the ingredients in this dish. When I found young slender fennel stalks this week I knew where to take that foundation and make something wonderful for a spring soup. Swiss chard is ideal here, but tender collards that are still benefiting from the cool spring will work nicely too, but may need longer simmering time. Because greens always benefit from some acid, I thought the preserved lemon topping would do the trick better than some vinegar. Polenta croutons add another dimension to the soup, in aroma and fragrance, but aren't a requisite to appreciate the minestra alone. (About the pictures: I took the picture of poppies, parsley and other herbs but didn't want that to be the first picture and can't seem to change that. The other photos are my collards and the spring onion and garlic. Big learning curve for me!) - Amber Olson —Amber Olson
Test Kitchen Notes
I was not prepared to like this recipe as much as I do. It has no meat, tomatoes and not even any cheese!! My foraging at the St. Helena farmers' market yielded fresh, just picked leeks, spring onions, green garlic bulbs (so tiny that I used 4 of them) and fresh swiss chard. I used my own chicken broth and Rancho Gordo borlotti beans. The lemon-parsley-cilantro should have had better billing in the recipe description!!! It was subtle but brought out much flavor to all the other ingredients. I did not make the optional croutons, but they sound delicious. I love this fresh, healthy soup just the way it is. Will definitely make it again. - dymnyno —The Editors
For the truffled polenta croutons:
medium fine stoneground cornmeal
3 1/4 cups
fresh grated parmesan cheese
white or black truffle oil
For the soup:
piece of trimmed leek, halved lengthwise, thickly sliced so they don't disintegrate completely, rinsed and shaken dry
spring onion bulb or 2 scallions, roots trimmed, chopped
green garlic bulb or 1 fat garlic clove, chopped
packed cup loosely chopped cleaned cilantro leaves and tender stems, plus a bit more for the garnish
cup packed loosely chopped cleaned flat leaf parsley leaves, plus a bit more for the garnish
cooked cranberry or borlotti beans (see note)
or two bunches swiss chard, (you'll need a packed quart of leaves) rinsed, leaves cut into ribbons, stems chopped into 1/2" pieces (keep stems separate)
salt to taste
extra virgin olive oil for the garnish
the rind of one preserved lemon (regular or meyer is okay)
In This Recipe
For the truffled polenta croutons:
Line a 12" x 12" baking sheet or other plate that's at least 1/2" deep with parchment. Bring 3 1/4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Whisk in cornmeal while pouring in a slow steady stream. Whisk in salt. Reduce heat to low and cook 25 minutes, stirring fairly frequently to prevent sticking. Polenta should be thick but pourable so you may need more boiling water during the cooking time. Add the cheese and truffle oil, taste for salt and then pour onto the baking sheet. Spread evenly. Cool until completely set, a day in advance is good.
While the soup is cooking, cut the polenta into squares, as many as you like. In a skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the squares and brown both sides in the butter. Remove to a plate and reserve.
For the soup:
In a 5-7 quart stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the leeks, onion/scallion, garlic and fennel. Stir to combine, add a pinch of salt, stir again, then reduce heat and partially cover pot. After 5-7 minutes, uncover, stir, add the serrano pepper and chard stems. Cook 5 minutes on low, then add the bean broth, chicken or vegetable broth increase heat to medium and bring to a boil. Stir in cilantro and parsley, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Add the cooked beans, cover and simmer 5 minutes. Uncover and add the ribbons of chard or other greens. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes or longer, until the chard is tender and almost silky. Taste for salt and pepper.
Thinly julienne the preserved lemon rind and mix with some extra virgin olive oil and a 1/2 teaspoon each of finely minced parsley and cilantro leaves. The soft rind kind of melts and makes a "pesto-like" mixture with distinct pieces of lemon rind.
To serve, ladle the soup into shallow bowls, add some of the truffled polenta croutons (or not), and place a dollop of the lemon garnish in the middle of each bowl.
Note: Since this isn't a "bean" soup, I didn't feel it necessary to include a recipe for that process. I did cook the beans with a strip of kombu which I think contributes mightily to a good bean broth as well as half a small onion, a bit of carrot, celery leaves and parsley stems. I added salt to the beans and broth about 15 minutes before they were finished cooking and then I let them sit an additional 1/2 hour uncovered off the heat before draining them.