I was going to post a recipe called “perfumed shrimp consommé,” but I have a couple of problems with it.  First of all, the use of “perfumed” in the name of a recipe kind of puts me off–perfume makes me think of soap and chemicals, neither of which taste very good.  I wouldn’t feel right about changing the name, because I swiped the recipe from somebody who christened it thus, and renaming it would be uncool and disrespectful (like swiping it’s not bad enough).  Beyond that, calling it a consommé is misleading.  It’s not a proper consommé, and we haven’t even yet arrived at the subject of what the heck a proper consommé is (French people must get awfully tired of inserting all these special characters and accents.  No wonder they’re grumpy).  Introducing it as a consommé would confuse the point and would do you a disservice, so I ain’t gonna do it.  We’ll get to real consommé later on, and then–if I remember–I’ll throw this perfumed shrimp business at you so you can see the difference.  It’s a perfectly nice recipe, but again–I don’t like the name and it’s too soon for it.

Instead, I give you a perennial favorite:

Minestrone

“Minestrone” comes from the Italian word for greens or vegetables.  Italian mothers can tell you, “Mangia il minestre, o I chucka you al finestre!”  I won’t lie–this is off the top of my pointy little head, and I know that I got the spelling and the grammar wrong.  My apologies to Italy and all things Italian.  But it translates roughly to “Eat your vegetables, or I’m throwing you out the window.”  It’s nice that the Italian version rhymes, but the translation has a certain no-nonsense quality that I like too.

Minestrone is one of those things that Italians will gladly get into fist-fights about (well, “shouting matches with lots of gesturing” is probably more accurate).  It’s like cassoulet or bouillabaise in France, paella in Spain and crab cakes in Maryland–everywhere you go, they swear they make the best and only authentic version.

In northern Italy, they generally use beef stock, butter, rice, and flat, ribbon-shaped pasta.  Southern Italy favors tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and tubular pasta.

Interesting footnote (interesting to me, anyway):  northern Italy is gaga for rice, while southern Italy goes for noodles.  China’s just the opposite.  That’s just a generalization, and it has its exceptions, of course, but it’s a pretty fair generalization.

Anyway, the recipe that I’m just about to give you is of the southern Italian variety.  It’s a very forgiving recipe (i.e., rustic), so feel free to mess with it and experiment.  The only really important thing is that the vegetables are fresh and various.  Adapt it to use whatever’s in season at the time.  This recipe’s really just a guideline.

If you leave out the cheese and the macaroni (or if you use egg-less noodles), it’s vegan, if you’re into that kind of thing.

This list of ingredients might look long and intimidating, but don’t be put off by it.  It’s really very simple, and the reward far outweighs the effort.  I’m an inveterate and unapologetic carnivore and dairy fiend, but even I like it.  A lot.

As usual, this is a recipe designed for a commercial kitchen, which means that if you follow it to the letter, you’ll wind up with far more than any sensible person can use up at home.  Divide it at your discretion, and don’t go nuts over exact measurements.  You’ll be fine.  Like I said, it’s very, very flexible and really just a guideline.  One of the best things you can do in the kitchen is develop some confidence, so you might as well start now.

Okay, finally-here we go.

 

Do not be fussy or worrisome with all the slicing and dicing involved.  It’s a rustic soup, which means it’s a slap-dash thing and you can get away with being quick and sloppy.

1 lb. dry white beans

2 Tbsp. olive oil

10 oz. diced onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. celery, diced

12 oz. carrot, diced

1 lb. zucchini, diced

10 oz. green beans, in 1/2″ pieces

1 lb. cabbage, diced

5 qts. vegetable stock

1 lb. diced tomatoes

12 oz. tomato paste (preferably the low-sodium variety)

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano

2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh chervil

2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

s & p

4 oz. recently cooked elbow macaroni

grated Parmesan for garnish

As I have pointed out before, fresh herbs are stupidly expensive.  Use dry if you must–I don’t think you’ll go to Seasoning Hell for doing so–but reduce the amounts to about a third.  The finished product won’t be nearly as nice, but one does what one must.

Soak the beans in plenty of cold water overnight, and then drain ’em.  Cover them with fresh water and let them simmer until they’re tender–probably about forty minutes.  Set ’em aside while we move on to other things.

Sweat the onions in the oil–we know what “sweat” means by now, don’t we?  I hope so.  Add the carrots, celery, and garlic, and let them cook for about three minutes.  Do not let them burn.  It happens easily–especially the garlic–so keep the heat fairly low and babysit it.

Except for the tomatoes, add the rest of the vegetables in sequence.  Let each one cook for a minute or so before you add the next.  Add the stock, the tomatoes, and the tomato paste.  Smack a lid on that sucker and let it simmer all afternoon–a good 2 1/2 or 3 hours at least.  Peek at it now and then to see whether you need to add more liquid.  Stock is ideal, but water’s okay too.

Stir in the various chopped herbs, season it with salt and pepper, and add the drained beans–remember them?–and the macaroni.  Crank it up to a simmer and let it go for about fifteen minutes for everything to “get married,” as they say.  Ladle it up and garnish it with the Parmesan.  That’s good eatin’ there, is what that is.  You betcha.

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