September 4, 2010

Hearty Winter Minestrone

As we Melbournians bid farewell to the chill and monotonous gloomy skies of Winter (while holding a glass of bubbly to welcome the arrival of Spring), I decided to showcase the lovely colours, textures and flavours of the best, and last, of the season's vegetables in a heart-warming wintery minestrone.

Much of my inspiration for this dish came from Masterchef's Gary's recipe for baked beans. Keep in mind this recipe needs to be started a day ahead, to allow enough time to soak the dried beans. If you are running short on time, just use the tinned variety and add them towards the end of cooking time to simmer for about 15 minutes.

In this soup, I use ginger, which I find is a great alternative to the usual onion and garlic; simply because it contains more nutrients and its spice and pungency (as well as slight sweetness) help keep the body warm in cold weather.

For those new to cooking with celeriac, it can be prepared in the same ways as potatoes. However, the outer bumpy and tough skin is inedible and has to be removed. Before cooking, lay the celeriac on its side and saw off the two ends (a serrated knife will make the job easier). Turn the vegetable to rest on one of the ends, for stability, and carefully saw the skin off the sides. Then use a regular, sharp knife to cut the celeriac into chunks for cooking.

Try to cut all your vegetables similar in size, not only for presentation but to ensure even cooking.

Serves 6-8
- 400g dried beans
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 6 cm piece ginger, finely chopped
- 4 stalks celery, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 Desiree potatoes, diced
- 6 sprigs thyme, secured together with kitchen string
- 4 dried bay leaves
- 2 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
- 3 litres vegetable stock
- 1 celeriac, diced
- 1 parsnip, diced
- 4 large silverbeet leaves, trimmed and coarsely shredded
- 100g feta cheese
- ¼ cup mint leaves, coarsely chopped
- ¼ parsley leaves, coarsely chopped

Dried butter beans (left). I initially wanted to cook with black turtle beans too, but they leached out so much black pigment when soaking that I chose to leave them out of the soup - they would have ruined the lustrous hues of the minestrone.

Place beans in a large ceramic bowl, cover with cold water and set aside for 12-24 hours to soak. Drain well, rinse and drain again.

Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot on medium and add the ginger. Stir for about 30 seconds, until fragrant (without browning).

Then add the celery, carrot, potato, thyme and bay leaves, and stir to coat in the oil.

Pour over the chicken stock and add the tomatoes. Reduce heat to a low, cover and simmer for approximately 1 hour 20 minutes, until the beans are almost tender.

At this stage, add the celeriac and simmer for a further 25 minutes. Then add the parsnip and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove the thyme and bay leaves.

Finally, add the silverbeet and cook until it is slightly wilted (about 2 minutes). Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning as required.

Ladle the minestrone into serving bowls, crumble over the feta, scatter over the mint and parsley leaves and serve with crusty bread. Bon appétit!

Hearty Winter Minestrone

Note: For the meat lovers, pan-fry fresh pork chipolatas to serve with the minestrone.

Hearty Winter Minestrone with Pork Chipolatas

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