When I moved to Italy in September, one thing my Mum kept saying to me was that the winters never feel quite so long over here as they do in the UK. Yes, November was super soggy and I spent pretty much the whole of December in London, but to be honest she isn’t wrong. Already by the end of January it was starting to feel more spring-like, the days are so much longer, the rain has settled (mostly) and in fact, there isn’t nearly as much snow as expected (which is a shame).
I actually went on a spontaneous hunt for snow this weekend. We drove up to Le Melette which is a small ski slope reaching a peak of 2000m, so still pretty low, but even now in mid-Feb the slopes are pretty bare. It wasn’t even that cold, I wasn’t wearing my thick coat or proper snow boots, it was actually really pleasant. All things considered, we aren’t quite in full spring mode, and even as I write this post, the mountains aren’t visible at all, we already have the fire on and it’s only early afternoon, so let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. The bikinis will need to stay tucked away for the time being. It is, however, perfect weather for a minestrone I would say!
You speak to every Italian Nonna and they will have their own way of making minestrone. Some will keep it chunky, others will blend it all up because their grandchildren can’t stand the sight of lumps in their minestrone. Personally I am a fan of both, but these days I prefer a chunky minestrone as I find it more warming. I also enjoy my minestrone with rice and yes, I know there is already potato in there but the rice just finishes it off. If I have enough minestrone, I cook the rice directly in the saucepan, otherwise I cook it separately until just undercooked and then combine it so it finishes cooking in the vegetable stock. This means the minestrone becomes more starchy and keeps you fuller for longer.
I used a romanesco cauliflower this time round, which tastes pretty much the same as a normal white cauliflower, it is just green and pointy – if you can get hold of this in your supermarket I recommend using it, otherwise a standard white cauliflower will work just the same. We are also lucky to find cavolo nero already prepped and chopped in packages, but if you can only find whole cavolo nero, just remember to cut out the main thick part of the stalk as this won’t soften even when boiled. Alternatively, you can use kale, but again, make sure you remove any chunky stalks.
I also find that the minestrone builds flavour over time, so if you can, make it the night before and just let it sit before eating – you won’t regret it! Minestrone can also be frozen, so why not make a super huge batch and separate it into containers for those lazy, cold, miserable days when all you want to do is sit under a blanket and binge-watch Netflix.
Serves: 6-8 people
Prep time: 15 minutes Cook time: 1 hour 10 minutes Total time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Ingredients 3 Carrots, peeled & chopped into 1cm chunks 3 Celery stalks, chopped into 1cm chunks 1 Large red onion, diced 2 Garlic cloves, finely chopped 1 Courgette, chopped into 1cm chunks 1 Small cauliflower, florets separated 1 Tbsp Tomato paste 3 Fresh Thyme stalks 1 Tsp Oregano Small handful fresh parsley, chopped 1.5L Vegetable stock 2 Potatoes, 1cm chunks 400g Berlotti or Cannellini beans, drained & rinsed 250g Cavolo nero (or Kale), stalk removed, roughly chopped 1 Tsp Salt 1/2 Tsp Pepper 2 Tbsp Olive oil To serve: Rice, Pastina or Croutons
In a large saucepan, heat olive oil on a medium-low heat, add carrots, celery and onions and slowly cook for around 10 minutes until the onions are almost translucent.
Add garlic and fry for 30 seconds before adding the courgette and cauliflower. Stir and leave to fry for 5 minutes before adding the tomato paste. Stir to combine and coat all the vegetables for around a minute.
Add the herbs and vegetable stock, stir and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer for around 30 minutes.
Add the potatoes, beans, salt and pepper and leave to simmer for another 20 minutes. For the final 10 minutes, add the cavolo nero, check the seasoning, adjust accordingly.
At this stage it is ready to enjoy as it, but if you want, you can cook some rice or pastina in a separate pan and combine which will make it an even heartier meal. Top with croutons and parmesan cheese if desired.