Thursday, October 11, 2012
I spent last week in Venice and the amount I managed to eat and drink surprised even me. For 12 hours a day, from 10:30 am to 10:30 pm I ate my way from one canal to the next. It was all good, and I had a great time.
It was a bit much even for me. And my stretchiest pants.
Which is all to say that this week, back in Rome, it’s been mostly vegetables. I’m not on some crazy diet, but I am trying to make up for past indulgence. So no alcohol. No cheese. No bread. But lots of fruit and vegetables.
Minestrone is my go to low fat meal. I’ve written about it in the past, about how easy it is to make in Rome. Just go to any vegetable stand in Rome and they have prepared minestrone, ready to go. Chopped up vegetables which change with the season. All you need to do is rinse and cook.
And add your own special touch. I always add a potato or two, and this time also I threw in some Spanish white beans I had cooked up the day before.
As always, an onion went in as well. But since I was making a big effort to be low fatish, I decided to avoid oil. While I would usually have chopped an onion and sauted it in oil first, with some garlic and hot pepper, before adding the vegetables and water, instead I just added a plain old chopped onion directly to the soup. No oil at all.
Which is pretty radical for me, since I usually go through about a liter of olive oil a week.
In the end though, this minestrone was one of the best I ever made. Because when I decided to cut out the olive oil, it forced me to think about other ways of adding flavor. First up was a handful of sun dried cherry tomatoes I had picked up at the market. I usually keep these ruby-colored, raisin-looking jewels on hand to serve with drinks, and had never considered cooking with them before. They are intensely flavorful though, so I figured a half a cup would add a punch of flavor. I was right. They acted sort of like tomato paste on steroids, while also adding color and texture.
After the soup had cooked for about an hour, just before I was ready to serve it, I added four cloves of garlic, squeezed directly from the press right into the pot. Adding the garlic raw, directly into the almost-done soup meant that it not only retained its sharp bite, but also perfumed the soup in a way that sauteing it first never does.
And finally, my secret ingredient: paprika.
Not just any paprika, but paprika I had bought while in Basilicata last May. Made from Senise peppers, it is the most flavorful paprika I have ever had. Rich and earthy, but sweet at the same time. It was basically like adding dehydrated sun roasted red peppers directly into the pot. Three heaping tablespoons added a depth and richness that no amount of oil ever had.
Unfortunately paprika made from Senise peppers is very difficult to find. Even in Basilicata I had to ask around, and finally managed to score a bagful from a local butcher who produced it on his farm.
But there are other great sources for paprika, from Spain, Hungary and from the south of France. Paprika, when it’s good, is great. It’s not just an anonymous red powder to be used to garnish deviled eggs. So try to find some, use it, and let me know how your minestrone turns out. Even if your pants aren't getting a bit too tight, I think you'll enjoy this recipe.
And you can always add a drizzle of olive oil before serving. I won't tell anyone.
Minestrone is best when made with whatever is in season and what is freshest.
2 pounds/ 1 kilo of mixed vegetables, should include the folllowing:
But really, add green beans, zucchini, pumpkin, leeks, cauliflower, broccoli, kale. It’s all good. If you want to add beans, make sure they are cooked before you add them.
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes. (if large, chop into smaller pieces)
3 heaping tablespoons of high quality paprika.
4 cloves garlic
salt and pepper to taste.
Place the vegetables in a large pot. Cover with water, add 2 tsp of salt and bring to a boil. Add the sun dried tomatoes and let simmer for about an hour. Turn off heat and add paprika and garlic, which has been pushed through a garlic press. Stir, taste and adjust for seasonings.
Served with grated parmesan or sharp cheddar on the side. And of course, if you want to, add a swirl of olive oil.