From Scratch: Raid the fridge for minestrone
If the vegetables in your crisper are starting to wilt, toss them into a hearty soup with some pasta.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 31 percent of all food available for consumption in the United States is lost or wasted along the food supply chain.
Crops are planted that are never harvested.
Retail stores throw away food that is blemished or presumed spoiled.
The end of the food chain is our own homes: The average family of four tosses $1,500 worth of food in the garbage each year.
One of the reasons for this waste is equating cosmetic imperfections with food safety. Limp carrots and celery with brown tips are not going to send you to the emergency room if you eat them. On the other hand, they will not be stars on the crudité platter.
One solution for vegetables past their prime is to make soup. The long, slow cooking will transform those less than perfect veggies into something savory. One the best soups for this is minestrone. It is a versatile soup that will accommodate almost any vegetable in your crisper.
Minestrone belongs to the Italian style of cooking called “cucina povera” or poor kitchen. A better translation might be frugal kitchen.
Minestrone has no definitive recipe, as it is put together from the ingredients available. It is usually vegetarian, though it doesn’t have to be. Minestrone is a hearty soup, so combined with some bread it is enough to make a meal. Like most homemade soups, it is even more flavorful the next day.
The following is a recipe for a winter version of minestrone. Feel free to add or subtract ingredients according to what you have on hand. This makes a very large pot of soup, but it freezes well.
1/3 cup each cannellini, chickpea and kidney beans, soaked in 4 cups water overnight
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 cup cabbage, finely chopped
1 teaspoon each rosemary, basil, oregano (fresh or dried)
1 bay leaf
10 cups stock or water
1 tablespoon salt (or to taste)
Freshly ground pepper
1 stalk celery, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
2 carrots, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1 large potato, cut in 1-inch cubes
1 medium zucchini, cut in 1-inch cubes
1 cup string beans, cut in 1-inch lengths
2 cups torn leafy greens such as spinach, kale or Swiss chard
1 cup ditalini or other small pasta
Drain the beans and cover with fresh water about 3/4 of an inch over the top of the beans. Add a teaspoon of salt. Cover the pot and cook over a medium flame, about 45 minutes. Set aside without draining.
In a large soup pot (6 quarts) heat the olive oil over a medium flame and add the onions and garlic. Saute until the onions are soft.
Add the tomatoes and saute for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the beans and their cooking water, cabbage, stock and herbs and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for half an hour partially covered.
Add the remaining prepared vegetables and pasta and simmer for 20 minutes more.
Serve with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.
— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.