I lied. Mostly to myself, but still, I lied. I said I would never, ever post a recipe on my blog. So many people do it beautifully. But here’s the thing of it. The day before New Year’s Eve the heating broke down. From the 30th of December until January 8th I survived a cold week in hell. London hasn’t experienced a winter like this one for thirty years. Space heaters were a runaway best seller at the local hardware store. I became intimate with four of them.
I can’t imagine how I came down with a stomach virus during the takeover of the flat. The heating guys were incredibly nice, but I felt a shade of green as I answered their calls for things like a bucket, a broom, paper towels, tea, (my contribution to keep them happy) and a number of other things that you can’t imagine a heating specialist would need. Each time I tried to lie down to stop the room from spinning, someone called my name, or everyone’s phone rang at the same time, or they pounded on the pipes. Then one of the guys smashed his finger with a hammer. Suddenly there was blood in the oddest places. The new boiler fell off the wall and almost landed on top of the same poor guy. For days the design element of the bathroom took on a Jules Vernon atmosphere.
I must have been the only person in the UK to lose weight during the holidays. I needn’t have worried about the chocolate tart or the Danish birthday cake I ate before the traumatic New Year. I couldn’t eat for a week. When my appetite did roll around again the only thing I wanted to eat was what I consider one of the best recipes for the winter months. Ever. Ever. It’s not pretty, although I’m sure a food photographer could manage to do something with it. I’ve cobbled together several recipes, but most of the credit goes to that longhaired genius in Dorset, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage fame. This recipe of Minestrone will turn you into a deity, no, scrap that, not really; it will make you extra special to those who already love you and endear you to those who don’t.
Don’t despair. I’ll jot down the recipe properly at the end. I’m just adding a few visual aides.
You’re going to need some of this.
If you’re a vegetarian or Kosher, then I’ll see you on the other side, because while you can make it without pork, it won’t be quite the same. If you’re lucky and are able to buy diced pancetta, then glory hallelujah to you. If not, lardons will be your next choice. And woe is you if there are no lardons in your grocery, you’ll need to dice some pancetta or bacon, preferably from a thick cut piece.
You’re also going to need a chunk of this.
Ever wonder what to do with that Parmesan rind? Ever scrape the skin off your fingers by grating too close to that nasty rind? Those days are gone, my friend. When all things great and small are in the pot and beginning to simmer into untold goodness, you are going to toss that humble rind into the pot. Why? Depth. We’re talking about adding Freudian type depth to your Minestrone. That’s depth, not death.
And you will need a lot of stock made from one of these.
Secret tip. I use organic chicken stock cubes and water and lordy, lordy, it works every time. Don’t have to make your own stock or buy Chef Incredible’s hand wrung chicken stock from Bavaria. Or, if you’re in the States, you can use the canned variety. Sadly, we don’t have those darling cans in the UK. Go figure. I'm feeling a bit homesick at the thought.
You’ll be using several of these, too.
And none of this stuff.
And when you put it all together, it will look like this at first.
I told you, it's not a pretty dish. But not to worry, it will cook down after a while.
And now go do something else. Personally I think it’s always time for this.
So, here’s the recipe in full. I’d love to know how it turns out for you. But only if it’s good.
3 tbs olive oil
6 ounces (130 grams) of pancetta or bacon cut into cubes
2 or 3 carrots – diced
1 onion – diced
1 or 2 sticks of celery – diced
2-3 cloves of garlic – finely chopped
6 ounces (200 grams) potato – peeled and diced
A Savoy cabbage – finely shredded
1 package of curly kale (it's safe - you won't be able to taste it)
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, or throw a few stems in and pick them out later
1 can of chopped tomatoes
About 1 ½ quarts (1.5 litres) of chicken stock
1 can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (or, ditch the potato and add another can of beans)
½ cup (80 grams) of small pasta, such as macaroni or tubetti
A small bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and Pepper
1 piece of Parmesan rind
Freshly grated Parmesan
Warm the olive oil in a big pot, then add the pancetta and saute until golden. Add the carrot, onion, celery and saute on low heat, stirring until soft, about ten minutes. Add the garlic, potato, cabbage and thyme and cook until the cabbage wilts. This won’t take long. Add the kale and cook until it wilts. This won’t take long either. Add the tomatoes, the stock and your new best friend, the Parmesan rind, and cook on low heat, partially covered for 40 minutes. Add the beans and pasta and simmer for 20 minutes. Add more stock or water if it looks too thick, although thick isn’t a bad thing. Don’t add salt until you’ve tasted. Depending on your stock you may not need it at all. Seriously. Add pepper and throw in the parsley. Taste again for seasoning. Serve with the grated Parmesan. Expect numerous OMG’s and compliments. This recipe makes a ton.