New Year’s Irresolution: Minestrone Soup

I gave up making New Year’s resolutions long ago, about the same time that I stopped pretending that waiting around for the ball to drop was worth the loss of a precious hour or two of sleep. This lack of enthusiasm for New Year festivities may or may not have coincided with the arrival of one or both of my children, although it could have happened earlier, like around the time I started to earn my living at a day job.

No, I tell myself as I pour my pre-dinner cocktail, there’s nothing special about the advent of the New Year that would compel me to be a better person. If I wouldn’t change my self-indulgent ways in July, why would I do it in January? No, no, no. There isn’t one good reason other than symbolism and the fact that I’m a little bloated from all the holiday baking (not to mention from the cabbage soup you’ve read about in my Christmas Eve posts). My on-again, off-again vegetarianism is not so much resolution as whim: I’m just not feeling meat right at the moment.

I’m looking for something substantive, yet light and healthy. If the kids will eat it, too, I get extra virtue points.

This recipe has been adapted from The Classic Italian Cook Book. Sadly, Marcella Hazan’s book–which is falling apart from use but still holds premium real estate in my cookbook library–is out of print. It has been reissued, with her second book, More Classic Italian Cooking, in a volume entitled Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. It is worth reading for the perfect techniques, and especially for Marcella’s stern, yet warm, instructions on how to cook her way, i.e., the right way. She never lacked resolution.

Minestrone soup
Adapted from Marcella Hazen’s Classic Italian Cooking

2 tbsps. olive oil
3 medium leeks, white and light green parts, sliced crosswise and rinsed well
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
2 cups peeled, diced potatoes
2 cups broccoli florets
2 cups diced zucchini
1 cup diced green beans
3 cups shredded cabbage or kale
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen green peas
1 1/2 cups cannellini beans (optional)
6 cups stock or water
The crust from a 1-lb. piece of Parmesan cheese*
2 bay leaves
2/3 cup canned tomatoes, with their juice
The Secret Ingredient**, ¼ teaspoon or to taste
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

This is a prep-as-you-go recipe. You start by washing and slicing  the leeks (and then washing them again; they can be very sandy). In a deep stockpot large enough to hold all the ingredients, heat the oil and add the leeks. Cook on medium-low heat until the leek starts to soften. Meanwhile, peel and dice the carrots. Add them to the pot and cook for two or three minutes, stirring occasionally. This gives you enough time to wash and dice the celery. And so on; you get the idea.  Repeat this procedure with the potatoes, zucchini, and green beans. Add the cabbage and cook for about 6 minutes, giving the pot an occasional stir. At this point the vegetables are basically stewing in their own juices, which will not evaporate too much if you use a deep stockpot.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to do this.

Add the cheese crust, tomatoes and juice, the water or stock, bay leaves, and a little salt. Cover and cook at a low simmer for about three hours. Fifteen minutes before the soup is done, add the peas. Add more water or stock, if desired.

Serve with grated Parmesan cheese on top.

*I always have a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese in the fridge to grate over pasta, or for Crocque Monsieur sandwiches, or just to eat with some olives or prosciutto. If you hang on to the rind, you will find that it adds flavor and body to tomato sauces or soups, like this. Throw it in at the start of cooking and fish  it out when you are ready to serve. Waste not, want not, people.

**Rooster brand, please. My Secret Ingredient. I strongly doubt that Marcella would approve.

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