Soup is one of the world's perfect foods. S0 delicious, so versatile, so comforting. Nothing says "Welcome home!" like a steaming hot bowl of soup on a snowy day. Nothing is so refreshing in the dog days of August like an icy bowl of white gazpacho, with tangy yogurt, crisp cucumber, and cool green grapes. Like Italian food, I could happily eat soup every day-- and did for years when I worked outside my home. Every Sunday I made a giant vat of the Soup de la Semaine, and took the leftovers to work with me for lunch every day that week. So dependable was this routine that once when I was in a hurry and grabbed a frozen entree for lunch instead, my whole department said, incredulously "You brought frozen food?!?" So soup is a wonderful and nourishing timesaver because it only gets better the longer it sits in the fridge. Up to a point, of course. ( I wouldn't advocated eating spoiled food!)
The recipe below is a BIG favorite of DS's and mine. It's my version of Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Minestra, the famous "beans and greens" Italian soup. You're probably more familiar with Minestrone, the no-holds-barred version of this soup. This soup is more your everyday kind of soup. It's very flexible and adaptable.
Sometimes I used dried beans and let them simmer for a couple of hours on the stove. Sometimes I use dried beans and cook them in the pressure cooker. And sometimes I used canned beans, if I'm tired and rushed. Same for the chicken stock. While its at its absolute zenith of deliciousity with homemade chicken stock, you can use prepared stock. I like either the Pacific or Imagine Brand of organic chicken stock. Whatever you use, it still tastes great! I'm going to give you the pressure cooker version below, even though this time I cheated and used canned beans.
DomesticMuse's 30 Minute Minestra
1 lb. dried white beans (Great Northern or Cannellini), washed well and picked over
2 qt. chicken stock
2 t. kosher salt
1 t. olive oil
2-3 T Extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 lb. pancetta, diced (I ask for one thick slice at the deli counter)
1 onion, diced
6-7 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 t. fresh grated nutmeg
1 lb. bag of frozen chopped greens (fresh escarole is traditional, but you can use just about anything except spinach. Frozen greens are great because you don't have to wash and chop. I often use turnip greens or collards. The turnip greens are more peppery, but collards are a little sweeter Sometimes I use a mix of collards, turnip greens, mustard greens, and beet greens.)
salt and black pepper to taste
If you are using canned beans, you need two cans, rinsed and drained. Add them with the chicken stock in step 5. (Obviously skip the bean cooking steps in this case!)
You have a choice here. You can either cook the beans in the chicken stock (more flavorful) and use the whole she-bang in the soup, OR you can cook the beans in salted water and drain off the water before you add the beans to the soup. Pouring off the cooking liquid gets rid of some of the indigestible sugars in the beans that give them the name "the musical fruit."
1. Spray the pressure cooker with nonstick spray. Add the washed beans, the chicken stock or 2 qt water, 2 t. salt, and 1 t. olive oil. Lock the lid on, bring to a boil over high heat until maximum pressure is reached, then reduce the heat and simmer at maximum pressure for 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the pressure release naturally while you prepare the rest of the soup.
2. Spray a large soup pot with nonstick spray and add the 2-3 T olive oil. Heat the oil over medium heat and add the pancetta.
3. Cook the pancetta over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it's nice and brown.
4. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until the onion is translucent and softened, about 5-6 minutes.
5. If you did not use the chicken stock to cook the beans, add it now to the soup pot. If you used water to cook the beans, the pressure should be released by now, so unlock the lid and test for tenderness. The beans should be just right, not too mushy, not too hard. If they are too hard, put them back on stove at high pressure for another 5 minutes, and then quick-release the pressure. Drain the beans if you used water. Add the beans to the soup pot with the chicken stock. If you used the chicken stock to cook the beans, unlock the lid and carefully pour the contents into the soup pot.
6. Add the chopped frozen greens and the nutmeg to the soup. Bring the soup to a boil and and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the greens are tender.
7. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you cooked the beans in the stock the Minestra will be thicker, so add water if you like it thinner.
This is delicious with a hunk of garlic bread or, surprisingly, brown bread muffins, which have a great affinity for bean soups of all kinds. Today I served some simple sandwiches on the side. I used toasted Prairie Bread from WF and layered Fra Mani Salame Rosa and Mortadella between the slices. I like one side spread with dijon and the other with mayo. You can dress these up or down with roasted red peppers and for the dairy eaters, cheese, if you like. We just had them plain. Don't you just love soup and sammie meals?
For those who do NOT have to eat dairy free, this soup is positively ambrosial topped with generous amounts of freshly grated Parmigano Reggiano. It's still delicious without the cheese, however. But like many things in life, EVEN BETTER if you add cheese!