Croatia: Cool People and They Make Minestrone
Summer Minestrone Recipe
My hub gets a bit anxious about my allergies whenever we go anywhere odd/ vaguely exotic. I joined him on a business trip a couple of years back, and he had one of his staff in Singapore translate my allergy into 6 different Asian languages and then his assistant had the translations printed, laminated individually and put on a keyring for me. Efficient, or what?
So, we are off to Croatia on our hols soon. With no handy office in Croatia, hub decides to wing an email off to the Croatian Tourist Board, announcing that me and my allergy would be visiting soon…like you do. The cool people there replied within an hour, with a translation I can use in restaurants. Awesome, my hub is one of those Type A personalities, “a gets things done” kinda of a person. Just as well.
Meanwhile I was pootering round the web. Found a site promoting Istrian Cuisine, and apparently a lot of the food is lovely and Italian-inspired, minestrone-like soups, pasta, pizza variants and frittatas. The area is famous for truffles too, although a bit early in the season for this year’s pick. HMmmm, I love truffles, they are to me what the donut is to Homer Simpson.
So, as a pre-homage to the delicious delights that await in Istria and because I am as likely to be cooking with truffles as Paris Hilton is to be coming over to hang out with us, here is my basic Minestrone recipe. In summer, I make it with more stock and the vegetable dice is smaller. In winter, the soup is more like a stew and the veg is rather chunky. Understatement: you need a knife and fork for my winter minestrone soup. There is no definitive recipe for this soup and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, it is a seasonal dish that uses whatever you have.
Ingredients (Serves 4):
Takes 20 mins to prepare if you chop quick, 45 minutes to cook.
- You are probably supposed to use pancetta. I don’t really like pancetta (small, hard lumps of salty, greasy gristle and rind, yeuch, when are we living, the Middle Ages?), so I use smoked back bacon instead, and dice it. Four slices is plenty.
- A large Onion or 2 smaller ones, diced
- Clove of Garlic, minced
- Carrots, figure on about 1/2 medium carrot per person
- Potatoes, one medium-sized potato per person, but it is really up to you and what you have in your veg trays. It is diced into larger chunks than the carrots, because too small and they go to mush
- Couple of sticks of celery, optional depending on what veg you have, sliced
- I am adding Green Beans today, because I have some hanging around that will be feeling sorry for themselves by tomorrow, but you could also throw in some diced Courgette, sliced Runner Beans, or whatever else you have. Slice and dice to roughly match the size of your carrot dice.
- About 50g of Spaghetti broken into short lengths, or any other smallish Pasta shapes, this dish is great for using up the end of bags.
- A tin of beans, such as Cannellini or Borlotti, or Butter Beans even. I have seen a recipe that uses fresh Broad Beans, these would be fine too but I would cook and take the skins off them before adding to the soup, otherwise you could have tough little Broad Bean ghosts clogging up your spoon.
- Teaspoon of whatever dried herbs you fancy, Thyme & Rosemary works well, Mixed Herbs, a Bouquet Garni, Herbes de Provence, Rosemary and Sage, whatever…or a couple of sprigs of what you may have in the garden, fresh.
- Bay Leaf
- 1 litre, or a couple of pints of either Chicken or Vegetable Stock.
- Small carton of creamed tomatoes or passata, or use a tin of chopped tomatoes. The passata works well for me, because it makes a nice smooth, deep soup broth and the veg is chunky enough without adding in more texture from tomatoes.
- In the winter, I usally add shredded cabbage (about half way through cooking)
- Seasoning to taste
- Parmesan, shavings or grated, to serve over, and some nice Bread to accompany.
In a large, heavy-based pan, saute the diced onion in a little olive oil. Add the minced garlic and diced bacon, cook for a few minutes more until the bacon is cooked through. Add the celery and carrots and sweat this together for another few minutes. Add the stock, passata, herbs and the bay leaf. Bring to the boil and then cook on the hob on a half-way setting, a slightly excited simmer, for about 15 minutes before adding the rest of the vegetables and the pasta: the carrots take longer and you can end up with mushed potatoes and overcooked pasta if you put it all in together. Diced courgette does not take very long to cook.
Taste and season, you will not need much salt if any, and one tip is that if it tastes a bit sharp because of the tomatoes, add half a teaspoon of sugar just to take away the acidity. Continue simmering for another 15 or 20 minutes until the potato is no longer hard and raw and pasta is cooked–you should cook the pasta separately, I prefer to live dangerously and not have to wash up another pot, but there are exceptions, see below. Add water if the soup is too thick, bring back to a boil if you do, then turn the heat back down to a simmer. Towards the end, add the can of drained, rinsed beans. They do not usually need longer than 5 minutes to heat through.
I serve this as a main course. All that chopping and clearing up, there is no way I am going to be making another dish on the same day. Minestrone freezes brilliantly, so this is one of only a couple of dishes that I deliberately make more of so one lot of chopping effort turns into two dinners. If I am doing this though, I split the soup in two and freeze one half without the pasta. It is also better made the day before and left overnight in the fridge as the flavours mature, and again I would do this without the pasta, but there are never complaints round here if you serve it straight up the day it is made.