Whenever I eat out in Italy I make sure I order minestrone soup at least once. It is such a classic dish, but also differs from season to season and from eatery to eatery. What you have here is more or less a guide, but basically throw in whatever you want. If you are a meat fiend then chuck in some meat, although I find the beans give it enough protein. I also like sprinkling some Parmesan on top when I serve it. And if your soup seems a little bland, go ahead and toss in a stock cube or two.
Minestrone literally means "big soup", and this soup has it all. You'll probably look down the list of ingredients that have to be chopped and lose the will to live, but please persevere. Think of all that goodness you will be feeding your family, all those vitamins buzzing around that pot. The quantities here are quite large, so you can always freeze half the soup and save it for a rainy day (in which case you might be waiting a long time over there in the UAE).
I hear the heat has well and truly arrived, and as much as I would love to see you all, I don't think I can visit before November. I wouldn't know what to wear. I'm not sure my shooting breeches and wellies would work in 50 degrees. I hear Snoop Doggy or whatever his name is wore traditional Arab dress for his concert at Yas Marina a few weeks ago. When in Rome and all that, I suppose, but I don't think it's a look for me. I'd hate to cover up my hair, which I am told is my best, some would say only, asset.
You see how perfect I am for M magazine? How I flit seamlessly between food and fashion? So back to our recipe. Save it for the weekend, get the kettle on and enjoy creating this big soup. Eat with some nice, slightly warmed ciabatta with olive oil, or butter if you're just too British to do that whole Mediterranean thing. Just like the tiramisu last week, this is another dish that benefits from sitting for a few hours or even overnight to let the flavours infuse. So make it first thing and sit back and relax, knowing you have a hearty lunch or dinner waiting to be heated up. Or if the heat is getting to you, serve it cold. Either way works.
MAKE IT YOURSELF
Minestrone vegetable soup
300g dry Borlotti or cannellini beans
1 bay leaf
3 fresh sage leaves
3 whole garlic cloves, minced
Salt and black pepper to taste
50g white onion (around half a small one)
50g carrot (one medium-sized one)
50g celery (one stick)
100g Parmesan rind (around two pieces)
50g potato (half a medium-sized one)
50g fennel (a quarter of a bulb)
50g courgette (one small one)
50g cauliflower (two large florets)
50g broccoli (two large florets)
50g savoy cabbage (around one good slice)
50ml olive oil
2l water and extra
100g ripened tomato (a medium-sized one)
30g fresh basil, about 15 leaves
1. Soak the beans in water overnight. Add the bay leaf, sage leaves and one minced garlic clove and boil until soft. Season and set aside.
2. While beans are cooking, cut the cauliflower and broccoli into bite-sized florets and the rest of the vegetables into bite-sized cubes.
3. In a large pot stir-fry in the olive oil on medium heat the other two minced garlic cloves, onion, carrot and celery and the Parmesan rind. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes.
4. Add the potato, cook and stir-fry for 7 more minutes on medium heat.
5. Add the rest of the vegetables in this order and cook each for 3 minutes: fennel, courgette, cauliflower, broccoli and savoy cabbage. Season again with every addition.
6. In the meantime, bring the 2 litres of water to boil in a separate pot. Strain the beans and add them, the boiling water and the tomato cut into cubes to the vegetables. Season again if needed.
7. Switch off heat and let the soup rest, for 10-15 minutes.
8. Serve hot or chilled, with homemade or store-bought pesto sauce if desired (see May 14 recipe). Garnish with the basil.