Now that it’s getting cold and dreary out there in the evenings I’ve tweaked my menu planner to include a soup night. I love soup. Soups are easy and quick to make, can be defrosted in minutes and come in a million and one variations. Soups are versatile too: they are perfect as a light snack to have in a mug or in a thermos on the go or can be jazzed up to make a hearty meal.
I have a few solid favourites that I make over and over again. An amazingly easy spinach soup which is a beautiful bright green and can be tarted up with all sorts of goodies like basil croutons, cream, crunchy bacon bits or crumbled feta – to name but a few. There’s also the hot & sour chicken soup which is good for cleaning a stuffy nose and full of lemongrass, ginger and chilli which I love. There’s a roast tomato soup which is also very hands off and delicious, so much so that you’ll never go back to tinned. On our retreats we serve a pea soup which takes zero time and skill to make but which is super popular.
Tonight I made one of my other favourites. An Italian Minestrone. There are so many variations of this soup across Italy – and actually most of the med – this Guardian How to cook the perfect minestrone covers many of them. Over the years I have experimented with lots of different recipes. This is the 2014 winner. It’s warming and filling and moorish and not too faffy. It’s not as quick as the spinach or the pea one but it packs a real punch and can sit in the fridge mellowing for a few days or in the freezer ready to come out whenever you need it. It’s definitely worth the additional 10 minutes chopping time.
Simple Italian Minestrone Recipe
Makes enough for 4 generous bowls
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 8 rashers of streaky smoked bacon (optional)
- 1 large onion
- 4 stalks of celery
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 small bunch of fresh parsley or 3tbsp chopped frozen parsley
- 6 medium ripe tomatoes
- 3 medium potatoes
- 4 carrots
- 2 x 400gram tin of borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
- 1.5 litre chicken or veg stock
- 3 handfuls of fresh spinach
- Put the olive oil in a large heavy based soup pan to heat. Start by cutting your bacon if using into bits with scissors straight into the pan and let them sizzle on a medium heat while you get on with the next bit.
- Take the stalks off the parsley and put it into a food processor or chopper attachment with the roughly chopped onion, celery and garlic and blitz to as close to a mush as you can get. Tip the mush out into the oil and bacon, sprinkle with salt, cover with a lid and cook gently on a very low heat until the onions are soft – about 10 minutes – and the bacon is crispy but really as long as you can afford to, 20 minutes is ideal. This is the base of your soup and the longer it cooks, the tastier your soup will be.
- In the meantime, quarter and deseed the tomatoes and cut the flesh into small pieces. Add this to the soft onion mush and cover again, leaving the tomatoes to melt into the base.
- Cut the potato and carrot into roughly the same sized cubes. These can be little ones of 1cm a side or, if you fancy something more rustic (and you’re rushed), larger bite-sized pieces.
- Add the carrots and potatoes to the tomato-onion slush. Put the lid back on and continue to cook gently for another 5 mins stirring from time to time. When the tomatoes have ‘melted’ and you’ve gut a reddish, slushy fragrant mush in your pan, tip in the beans and the spinach and mix gently.
- Put the heat up and pour in your stock (enough to cover the veg by about a 3 centimetres).
- Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat to simmer. Cook for between 10-20 mins (depends on size of chunks!). It’s ready when the carrots and potatoes are cooked.
Vegetables: You can, of course, use pretty much whatever vegetables you like in this recipe: peas, courgettes, green beans, runner beans, broad beans, edemame beans, cabbage, spring greens, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, pumpkin, broad beans, mushrooms, kale, chard, cavolo nero, sweetcorn.
Pasta and Rice You can also add small pasta shapes or broken spaghetti or a couple of handfuls of rice to fill it out. Add these at the appropriate time straight into the soup following the cooking time on the packet.
Herb it up: This variation has parsley because I have a load of it chopped in my freezer but I often make the onion slush with basil rather than parsley and sometimes I blitz the carrot into the mush too if it’s a bit past it’s prime. You could drop a bay leaf into the stock (especially if you are using vegetable stock which is less savoury than meat stock). You could also add a bit of oregano, fresh or dried and even a few chilli flakes to warm it through.
Vegetarian/Vegan Drop the bacon and chicken stock and use vegetable stock instead. Add more pulses like chickpeas, lentils or white beans to make it heartier.
What I love about this soup is that it is completely customisable and I have made it in many different ways. If you’re ideal of a healthy diet includes eating more vegetables, this is a great way of introducing more and new veg into your meals. For BCers looking to expand their repertoire and eat a more varied diet, this soup is a fantastic way to add a bit of this and a bit of that and seeing if you like it. Play around with this recipe and make it fit for you.
If you like it and think you might make it often this winter, have a go at making double or even triple the amount of onion slush and freeze it so that when you want to make the minestrone you don’t have to go through the whole peeling, blitzing and cleaning the gadget bit. You can put the frozen block of onion-garlic-parsley-celery straight into the pan with a sprinkle of salt and put it on a low heat to defrost and cook. It’s even better this way because it’s less likely to burn thanks to the high water content.
Find out more about working with Audrey and bring The Psychology of Weight Loss into your kitchen. Audrey coaches on Healthy Eating, Family Food, Special & Exclusion Diets and Cooking.