Monday, November 7, 2011

The Soup Project: Minestrone

I've been thinking about Minestrone soup for a long time. For me, the best thing about Minestrone is the pasta. But I have to say, the worst thing about Minestrone is soggy pasta the next day. Waterlogged pasta isn't anything I look forward to.

I stumbled over a secret for the pasta in Minestrone in one of my favorite cookbooks.

I'll share the secret, but first I must share a few photos and tidbits about Nash's new farm store in Sequim Washington.

Last Friday I went to Nash's Farm store grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony.

Nash's Farm Store

I took the Kingston Ferry and from Kingston, it's about an hour drive, north towards Port Angeles.

I look forward to the reader boards at Nash's farm that change depending on the season. Saturday was kid's day at the farm store with a bunch of cool planned kids activities. Makes me wish I'd grown up near a farm like Nash's.

Nash's new store is just down the road from the old store. The building was once an old Tavern. It took a lot of work to get the smoke out of the walls and to turn the old building into a bright cheery store.

They hit a few snags along the way. Permits were higher than anticipated and the work cost more than they'd planned. So the farm crew solicited the community for donations to help make this store happen.

And the community came through.

The result is amazingly cool--just check out all the produce. Much of it comes from Nash's farm. Some produce, that Nash doesn't grow, comes some of the farms I profiled in my book, like Dennison Farms near Corvallis. Sometimes I see things from Oregon here and wonder if it came from Tom Dennison's farm. The Organically Grown Company delivers it. All the produce is organic.

I got to the farm store early, but it wasn't long before people began arriving. Must have been everybody in the community that came to see the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Music was provided by Kia's husband, Cort Armstrong.

This beautiful carrot cake was cut after the ribbon cutting, and tasted was good as it looks--sweet cream cheese frosting, and cake made with Nash's flour and carrots. It was the kind of cake I dream about. My Cooking Assistant would have been impressed.

Nash said a few words, thanked his farm crew and everybody who helped make the store possible.

This is Patty McManus, Nash's wife. She does the bookkeeping and marketing for the farm. The carrot ribbon--a priceless idea.

The picture behind Patty and Nash is a "mock up" of a mural that's going to be painted, I think on this wall. Everyone who donated for the store will get their name painted into this painting. You could buy your level--starting with helpful ant at $10, then butterfly, honey bee or lady bug. I wanted to be a butterfly. Kind of like the tiles at Pike Place Market.

Now the butterflies mean something.

Every wall inside the store is a different bright color. They have coolers for meat, dairy, eggs and nuts, and nice displays for the produce.

I love that they offer these overripe and damaged fruits and vegetables for less money. There was a basket filled with leeks that said "free," and everyone who came to the store opening got to take home a free leek. That's how leeks became the first ingredient for my Minestrone soup.

Five Cool Things About Nash's Farm Store

1.Offers great selection of farm grown organic fruits and vegetables.

2. Supports local crafts people and neighboring farms by selling their products.

3. Shows food movies like Food Inc. on a regular basis. (All I want to know is: is popcorn included?)

4. Has a great childrens' play area and tiny shopping carts for kids.

5. Offers bargain priced produce, marked down from regular prices. I love this as a way to save on my $100 a week food budget.

Creating Soup

When I got home from the event, I perused a few cookbooks to get some ideas for Minestrone soup. I checked out Barbara Kafka's Soup, A Way of Life from the library last week, so I scanned the index for Minestrone. Under the title Kafka wrote, "There are as many Minestrones, all somewhat different, as there are regions of Italy."

Just the kind of soup, I like. I had celery, carrots, onion as the main ingredients. Kafka's ingredients were vegetarian. I saw a few changes I wanted to make--dried tomatoes for canned and bread crumbs in place of Parmesan cheese.

I checked Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and she listed parsley and thyme. Seemed like the linking ingredients for Minestrone are tomatoes, pasta and vegetables. I took out a note card and made a list of all the ingredients I wanted to include in the Minestrone soup.

The next day I went to the market.

This is Nash's produce from the market. After paying $25 for round trip ferry rides, I wondered how much the farm pays to bring their produce to the markets here. We don't usually think of those kinds of farm expenses when we purchase foods, even at the market. It may be within 100 miles but that ferry ride is expensive.

Carrots are essential in a soup where you plan to use water not stock. One of the basic building blocks of stock, I always include them along with celery and onions when I don't to use a stock. Since I'm looking for ways to add flavor without a stock, I soaked dried porcini mushrooms. Soak these mushrooms and you end up with a deep rich flavored water, without going to the trouble of making stock. To bring the soup flavor even deeper I added dried tomatoes. I used to think organic sundried tomatoes preserved in oil were the best, but at $9, I'm looking for other options to boost the stock's flavor. I'm not out to impress royalty, I just want to eat well on a budget.

This was a perfect opportunity to try out my dried tomatoes.

The big secret is to cook the pasta ahead of time. Maybe you already knew that, but I like the idea of adding the amount of pasta you want after the soup is cooked. The hot soup heats the cold pasta.

Here's my recipe:

(Serves 4 to 6)

1 cup small shell, alphabet or orzo pasta
Handful of dried porcini mushrooms
6 to 10 dried tomatoes, chopped (or cut with kitchen scissors)
1 bay leaf
4 cups boiling water
1 very large leek or two medium leeks, sliced (about 2 cups of sliced leeks)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 jalapeno or habanero pepper, seeds removed, minced
1 to 2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 to 2 carrots, sliced
1 potato or 1/2 sweet potato, diced
1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked red beans
2 sprigs of thyme
Apple cider
2 cups chopped arugula or spinach, chopped (optional)
Handful chopped parsley
Parmeasan cheese (optional)

1. Cook pasta, according to directions, until al dente. Remove from heat, cool with cold water. Drain and set aside.

2. Pour boiling water over mushrooms, tomatoes and bay leaf. Allow mushrooms and tomatoes to soften. Drain, reserve liquid, chop vegetables.

3. Heat a heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add leeks and olive oil. Reduce heat, stir and cook until leeks begin to get tender. Add garlic, jalapeno and tomato paste. Stir and cook for a few minutes.

4. Add liquid and bay leaf from porcini and tomatoes and celery, carrots, potato, beans, and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and add mushrooms and tomatoes. Simmer until potatoes are and carrots are tender--about 20 minutes.

5. Remove bay leaf and thyme. Adjust seasonings by adding salt, pepper, and apple cider. Add water to thin. Stir in chopped arugula or spinach. Add the amount of pasta you want to each serving and stir it in before serving. Garnish with Parmeasan cheese (if desired) and chopped parsley.

Learning to read with alphabet soup.


carolinaheartstrings said...

Nice post. Love the dog in the soup! This looks like a really easy delicious recipe. Thanks for sharing it. Come visit. We have a terrific cranberry coucous recipe today.

Miz Helen said...

Great post and great soup! Thank you so much for sharing your fabulous recipe with Full Plate Thursday. Hope you are having a great week end and come back soon!
Miz Helen

Debbie @ Easy Natural Food said...

Hi Debra, this looks so tasty! I love minestrone but have never tried making it before, but this one is going on our Sunday night menu! Thanks for sharing this on Sunday Night Soup Night!
Nash's farm store looks like an awesome place to go. We have a similar kind of store locally that I do most of my produce shopping at.

Debbie @ Easy Natural Food said...

I just tweeted your soup as one of my favorites from Sunday Night Soup Night 11/13!

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