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Recipe: Minestra


This month our guest food blogger Gabby Trifiletti of @gabbyandthefourseasons has dished up yet another no-nonsense, love-filled culinary winner. 

To me this recipe really celebrates the idea of frugal hedonism (spending less while enjoying everything more) which I read about in a marvellous book by some Melbourne locals - Annie and Adam. The minestra consists of that which is most seasonally plentiful and abundant, indulges the senses and provides enough to share around and celebrate with others. In my trial run of the recipe I swapped some of my home-grown limes for a neighbours' fresh herbs, used up some silverbeet growing next to my compost bin, threw in some bay leaves I'd dried when another neighbour cut back their tree at the beginning of the year, used up a batch of vegie stock from the freezer that I'd stashed a few weeks back and served with croutons I made out of stale bread. I then shared some of the excess with a friend who lives alone and is sick of cooking-for-one in lockdown life and sent off a generous serving to nourish my mother-in-law who is recovering from medical treatment. Plus I only had to cook once over the course of several days as the pot of minestra just kept on giving. Consequently I could then concentrate a little more on some of life's free pleasures like admiring the blossoms, snuggling with my pooch and taking sunset walks along the creek.

Please have a try, and do let us know what you think. We'd love to repost your efforts on instagram stories if you tag @rhubarbrhubarborganics. 
And thanks for handing us another kitchen gem Gabby. Over to you now.

"Hi there all of you wonderful home-chefs.

Thanks for all of your super kind comments and feedback on my maiden-voyage pear cake recipe last month. It was so great to see the pics of all the beautiful cakes you made and posted on social media. 

This month we have something that will lift your spirits, make your tummies very happy and elevate you to the status of most popular person in the house.⁠ It's a fresh, flavour-bursting Italian style vegetable soup – minestra.

The veggies listed here are really a suggestion: please use what’s in your fridge, your garden, your larder, or whatever your friends and neighbours have too much of and have kindly shared with you. In short, use what is in season!
Mother Nature, it turns out, knows a thing or two about healthy, simple, economical eating – so let’s listen up, folks.
Your friendly organic produce store (here's looking at you Rhubarb Rhubarb) is an excellent guide on what veg are in season – take a tour and pick your faves.

Minestra – and it’s bigger, bolder cousin, minestrone – are from Italy’s ‘cucina povera’. The word ‘minestra’ comes from the patriarchal custom of ‘dishing up’ (minestrare) the first course of a meal into bowls by the head of the table. Italians describe their soups as both ‘minestra’ and ‘minestrone’, but is there a difference, you ask? In my experience, the minestra – like we’re making here – is usually all veg, and ‘lighter’ than the heavier, often bean and meat-based, minestrone.

This is the food made by the peasants, the Nonni, in good times and plenty of bad, with whatever was – or often, was not – available. It is not the Prada boots of the Italian food repertoire: it’s more the worn, crochet blanket your Nonna made 50 years ago – cosy, loving and wrapping you in its warmth. So be creative and be frugal, like those Nonni: don’t waste anything! Use what’s around. Same goes for your herbs – please don’t buy a whole jar or bunch of anything, unless you promise you’ll use it all up in other recipes. 

*PRO TIP: make a pot of vegetable stock with all of the scraps from this soup. Peels, herb stalks, you name it, into a pot they go! Add water, a few bay leaves. Simmer away whilst your minestra is bubbling away. Then – mamma mia, you have a vegetable stock AND a minestra cooked in one go! Veggie stock can be stored in fridge or frozen for use on another day: as a base for other soups, casseroles, tagines, in risotto…you get the picture. 

This soup is vegetarian. If you don’t sprinkle the Parmigianno on top at the end, it’s also vegan. If you don’t add risoni, and use GF bread or don’t serve with bread, it’s also gluten-free.

Til next time, take care, be kind and look after each other."

- Gabby Trifiletti, August 2021

 

GABBY'S MINESTRA - HOME STYLE_VEGETABLE SOUP 

Makes: a large pot, about 10 -12 serves. Very good for taking a little pot to the neighbours, your family or friends. Spread the love.

Prep: 30 mins.

Cooking: About 60 mins.

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Ingredients:  

  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic (crushed, chopped roughly; finer if you want stronger hit)
  • 1 medium to large onion, chopped into small dice
  • 2-3 sticks celery, chopped into small dice
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled + chopped into small dice
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds (or dried thyme)
  • 2 teaspoons dried chilli flakes 
  • 2 -3 bay leaves, dried or fresh 
  • 1 bunch each silverbeet and/or kale stalks - VERY well washed; chopped finely (in first), leaves roughly chopped (separate bowl for later, please.)
  • 2 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 2 ears fresh corn, kernels sliced off (or 1 can or jar, drained)
  • 1 can chick peas, drained, or equivalent cooked by you (or cannellini beans, kidney beans…pick your favourite) 
  • 2-3 tablespoons of tomato paste OR half a tin crushed tomatoes
  • ½ cup raw pasta, risoni, or rice, if desired
  • Sprigs of fresh parsley or basil
  • Water or vegetable stock - to cover everything, plus 10cm more of water ‘above the veggie line’

    PLUS all or any of the following vegetables: 
  • 1 large potato, peeled and chopped
  • 200 g pumpkin, peeled and chopped
  • Sweet potato, or daikon, or swede or turnip. All peeled and chopped.
  • 1 medium cauliflower broken into florets, finely sliced and chop stem and leaves (stems go in first and cook longer, florets a bit later in the story)
  • 2 heads broccoli, same treatment as cauliflower

  To servecrusty bread, more olive oil, grated Parmigiano.

Method:

  1. Into a very large soup pot, on medium heat, goes the olive oil, and all of the ingredients, right up to silverbeet and kale stalks, generous amount of salt and pepper ground over the top. Sweat it down until really nice and soft, not brown, and until all flavours have melded happily together. Lid on will help. Keep stirring, moving it around so it doesn’t burn or stick! (About 10-15 minutes at least, I’d say. Up to 20 mins. Don’t rush it. This is the base of the soup and where the real flavours begin to develop.

  2. Now add the water and simmer on very low heat, lid on, 20-30 mins. Veg are to be tender, not collapsed and mushy.

  3. Add the zucchini, corn, chick peas, tomato paste (or crushed tomatoes). Give it all a good stir. If minestra looks too thick, add some more water. Lid back on for another 5-10 mins, until these latest veg are tender. (If you want to cook your pasta/ rice in the soup, add it now with an extra 2 cups of water, and check for salt. Otherwise, cook your pasta or rice in a separate small pot, in the usual way. Drain, set aside, and stir through at the end.)

  4. Home stretch…in go the last greens: shredded silverbeet and kale leaves and the frozen baby peas. Lid back on for 5 minutes or so: check! The leaves and peas should be a gorgeous bright green (not life-sapping brown.)

  5. Taste for seasoning: more salt, pepper, chilli needed? Is the minestra too thin (watery)? – lid off, let it cook a bit longer. If it's too thick – add more water/stock, gently mix in. Stir through your cooked pasta or rice, if you didn’t add it at Step 3. Happy?

  6. Serve with generous amount of grated Parmigianino, fresh parsley or basil, and good slurp of olive oil. Don't forget the side of crusty bread.

Enjoy with the people you love, or all to yourself, in a much-deserved quiet moment. This soup can be kept in the fridge for a few days, or frozen in portions immediately. Reheats very well and is a lovely little treasure to find on a day when you have the lockdown (or any other) blues.

Photography by Emma Byrnes

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