I have been sick the last several days. It has been sad. I have been unable to cook for days, which pretty much breaks my heart. 😦
There are only two up-sides to this experience, as far as I can tell. The first is that the prescription cough syrup my doctor prescribed to me makes it feel as though the world is covered in a very fine fuzz: it also basically ascertains that this post will be shorter and less articulate than it normally would be. Please forgive any typos you find…
The second is that I could feel the sickness coming on, and so I decided on Friday to make a big pot of soup. Sick or not, autumn is a great time of year for soups.
So, here’s the thing: this is a very forgiving soup. As long as you use the same volume of veggies and herbs that the recipe calls for, feel free to experiment. Some people like it with cabbage instead of squash, or eggplant instead of potatoes, marjoram instead of thyme, etc.etc. You can leave out the mushrooms and double the potatoes. Just be sure to make the chunks of veggies big enough that they don’t just fall apart.
Feel free to make this without either the bacon or pancetta, with an extra can of beans, and with vegetable broth for a sublime vegan dish. Or to double the amount of bacon or pancetta for a meatier soup experience. Or to go all fancy-schmancy and use uncured duck bacon, available at your friendly neighborhood Wegmans. Whatever you want. Have fun.
Also, stir the soup gently and lovingly, especially as it gets closer to being done. My dear friend Dana, who was head cook at the Zen Center when I lived there, used to warn me about my tendency to create a perfect dish, delicious and beautiful… until the last few minutes before serving time: if I felt hurried, or if I was adjusting the seasoning levels and getting frustrated if they weren’t coming together just how I wanted, then I would start stirring less and less gently, breaking the hearty chunks into pieces. This can happen especially easily when you are making a dish with a high water content, such as a soup or a stew. On one memorable occasion, I was supposed to be making a thick, chunky groundnut stew, but I ended up with a monochromatic vat of texture-less puree.
Dana would look at me when this happens and say, “When you learn how to be gentler with your food, you will know how to be gentler on yourself. Be patient. It will come together.”
- 2-3 T olive oil
- 4 oz. bacon or pancetta (OPTIONAL)
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 large leek, sliced (check out my post on Chicken Divan for info on preparing leeks)
- 3 carrots, peeled and chopped in thick slices
- 2 celery ribs,chopped coarsely
- 6 oz. wild mushrooms, very coarsely chopped
- 2 potatoes, washed and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 squash or 1 eggplant
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 14-oz. cans diced tomatoes
- 8-10 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth, heated to a simmer
- 1-2 t fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped
- 2-3 t fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 c (packed) Italian parsley leaves, chopped
- 3 T pesto sauce
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 15.5 oz. can cannellini beans
- 4 oz. orzo, gemelli, or other small-sized pasta
- Heat the oil in a large stock pot (the capacity should be at least 6.5L) over medium-high heat. Stir in the onion and the leek: reduce heat to medium and cook for 5-10 minutes until the onion is completely translucent.
- Add the carrots and celery: cook, stirring occasionally, 3-4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook 2-3 minutes. Add the potatoes, squash and garlic and cook until the vegetables are tender (but not quite fully cooked), about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir gently to combine: heat until bubbly.
- Pour in the hot broth and stir well (start off with only 8 c of the broth: you can add more later if it’s needed). Add the herbs and pesto: season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer (partly covered) 30 minutes.
- Add the beans and bring the mixture back to a simmer. Add the pasta: continue simmering 10-20 minutes until the pasta is al dente.
- If desired, sprinkle each serving with grated asiago, romano, or parmesan and serve with hot buttered bread.