Monday, October 8, 2007

Green Pea, Escarole, & White Bean Minestrone col Soffritto for Freddie - a Recipe


October isn’t often billed as such, but it’s actually a fantastic month for greens. Right now market stands are bursting with fresh dandelion greens, collard greens, kale, lettuce (including wintery favorites like chicory, radicchio, and escarole), mesclun, mustard greens, spinach, and swiss chard. And once the weather turns chilly, both fava and pea greens are harvested as well.


One of my favorite ways to enjoy the stronger flavors and more durable textures of autumn’s greens is in a hearty minestrone soup based on the culinary tradition from northern Italy. There minestroni, or thick, slow-cooked vegetable soups, tend to be far heavier than the soups of warmer central and southern Italy.

There are 2 types of minestrone: a crudo and col soffritto. In minestrone a crudo the raw vegetables are placed directly into stock or water and seasoned with olive oil towards the end of cooking, but traditional minestrone col soffritto starts with vegetables sautéed in olive oil, lard, or pork fat before the cooking liquid is introduced, and rice or small pasta is often added at the end. This seasonal minestrone col soffritto is drawn from a Venetian preparation that uses pancetta for a flavor base. I love the faint resonance of the cured pork and heel of parmesan against the nutty-sweet peas and pea greens. And I must say that raising these peas to their very height is the point.


I was honored when lovely Charlotte Hume of The Great Big Vegetable Challenge asked if I’d join her, the fabulous David Hall of Book the Cook, and the talented Hannah of Hannah's Country Kitchen in a Monday pea extravaganza in honor of her son Freddie. Charlotte started her fantastic blog – an alphabetical exploration and adventure through the perils and pleasures of vegetable eating – when Freddie’s abject horror of peas reached epic proportions.

He’s since become one of the most audacious eaters I know – that statement includes adults, by the way – and I’m mightily impressed. But the project’s just wrapped up “P is for Pak Choi,” and there’s no way to put off the inevitable “P is for Peas” any longer. Today the 3 of us are posting pea recipes as a sign of solidarity with Freddie. I have the utmost faith that he can do this!

The thing about peas is that they need only scant contact with heat before they’re ready to eat, and they must be fresh, or they go to mealy starch all too soon. I keep my peas and pea greens out of this soup until I’m about to serve it. That way they never loose their sweetness, texture, or color from reheating.


I brought home the month's first bundle of Gorzynski Farm pea greens last week (on the left in the photo above). I love to sauté them, but I often toss them raw into salads as well. They’re lovely when paired with the last good peas of the season, and I hope Freddie will approve of the sweetness they lend to the white beans, leeks, and escarole in my autumn minestrone. Feel free to substitute fava greens, spinach, or swiss chard if you can’t find pea greens.

Update:
Hail the conquering heroes!


Serves 6 – 8

6 thin slices pancetta
extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, medium dice
kosher salt
2 leeks, white and light green portion halved and sliced into thin half moons
2 ribs celery, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
¾ lb borlotti or cranberry beans, fresh if possible
2 tbsp fresh minced rosemary
3 bay leaves, fresh if possible
freshly ground black pepper
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup white wine
1 heel parmesan cheese (if you have one on hand – I save mine in the freezer for soups and stews)
2 cups thinly sliced escarole (well-packed)
1 cup fresh peas, blanched in boiling water for 60 seconds and shocked in ice water
2 cups chopped pea greens or fava greens, spinach leaves, or swiss chard (well-packed)
handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped
good parmesan cheese for grating

Arrange the pancetta slices on the bottom of a heavy, cold soup pot. Drizzle with a little olive oil and place over medium heat. Cook, turning when necessary, until the pancetta is crisp. Remove to a plate.

Add the onion to the pancetta fat, sprinkle with a little kosher salt (too much can make the beans tough later on), and sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the leeks and the celery and sauté, stirring occasionally, until slightly translucent. Add the garlic and stir for 1 minute longer.

Stir in the beans, rosemary, and bay leaves. Crumble in the pancetta – I prefer it crumbled as finely as possible. Season well with black pepper. Add the stock, the wine, and the heel of parmesan if using. Raise the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Stir in the escarole and simmer covered for 15 minutes more. Check the seasoning with salt (depending on the salinity of your stock, you may need quite a bit, as almost none’s been added up to this point), and more black pepper if desired. Discard the bay leaves and parmesan heel.

When you’re ready to serve the minestrone, heat only the portion of the soup you intend to serve, stir in the appropriate portion of peas, pea greens, and parsley (amounts allotted in the ingredients list are for a full pot of soup), and simmer gently for a few moments until they’re heated through and bright green. Serve immediately so the peas and pea greens don’t overcook, and sprinkle with some grated parmesan cheese.

23 comments:

Great Big Vegetable Challenge said...

This is a beautiful tribute to the greeness of peas!
Let us hope it helps to ease pea haters out of their fears...

Thank you
Charlotte and Freddie

David Hall said...

Tremendous as always Amanda - may the force be with us all in our battle against the pea hater in Freddie!

Cheers
David

Figs Olives Wine said...

Charlotte and Freddie, congratulations on your magnificent victory! And thanks for inviting me to join in! I'm so relieved you like the look of the minestrone.

David, thanks so much. May the force be with us indeed! It's no small task, but fortunately he is exceedingly brave! Love your paella too.

marisa said...

Congratulations to Freddie! What a great minestrone. Looks delicious.

winedeb said...

Too funny that you mention peas! That was the secret ingredient on Iron Chef the other night - "frozen peas"! I think my favorite item that was made on that show was a pea popsicle! Freddie surely would like that!

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Such a great post Amanda! So many things to love - Greens (boy do I love 'em) Minestrone AND the Big Veg Challenge! I think that is one fabulous blog! Congrats to Freddie!

swirlingnotions said...

I hated peas too, until a farmer at the farmer's market held one out to me and urged me to eat it raw. After a childhood with a mother who snuck canned peas into every self-respecting salad I made, it was an epiphany.

As always, fabulous recipe! Thank you!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Marisa, yes! Congratulations to Freddie! And thank you. So pleased you like the soup.

Winedeb, how fabulous! Frozen peas as an episode must have been so fun, and the popsicle sounds delicious! I must pass that on to Charlotte - Freddie might just go for it! I know I would ;)

Jenn, thanks so much! Isn't Charlotte's site marvelous? It's one of my absolute favorites.

Swirlingnotions, good god that must have been a serious revelation! Of course she meant well, but canned peas can be brutal. Freshly picked though, before they've had a chance to go to starch...they're such a treat! So glad you like the minestrone.

Mercedes said...

What a sweet idea, I loved reading all the pea posts. I love pea shoots, but they can be quite unreliable and tough when not fresh. I'm curious how you prep them for cooking, do you just seperate the leaves (discarding the tendrils) and chop them?

Annemarie said...

Perfect time for a soffritto or ribollita - and it's a great catch-all for the vegetable abundances of autumn. Thanks for the reminder that I should be swinging by a pick-your-own farm to make the most out of the season. Hope this helped work a treat with Freddie, since I too used to be a pea hater - it's possible to reform!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Mercedes, thanks! I maybe should put something about that in the recipe! Thanks for that. Our pea shoots are really tender (they work in salads), so I just use the top 8 inches or so and don't bother to pick the leaves off the stems.

Annemarie, thank you! So glad you like - it really feels like that time of year, doesn't it? Freddie's doing very well indeed! He's had 2 pea recipes so far, and I highly recommend checking them out on Charlotte's site. He's a very brave boy indeed!

Homesick Texan said...

One of my favorite snacks is peas with bacon, so I can't wait to try your soffritto. Everything's better with pork!

Cynthia said...

I really admire what Charlotte has done with her blog and her quest to get Freddie to eat more veggies. More power to her and congratulations.

Which method do you prefer when eating the greens - crudo or col soffritto?

Figs Olives Wine said...

Homesick Texan, agreed! Nicely put. A little pork never hurt a thing, and I love bacon against the sweetness of peas! Hope you like the soup.

Cynthia, I like soffritto! I feel like it gives me a chance to add a little more flavor - never a bad thing. And isn't Charlotte's blog wonderful? She's so talented, and it's such a great thing she and Freddie are doing!

Jessica said...

These photos are beautiful - makes me want minestrone soup immediately.

Garrett said...

Loved being able to be a part of this myself with the pea cakes. Also loving this recipe of yours! Looks fantastic. :)

Figs Olives Wine said...

Jessica, thanks so much! I'm so pleased you like the photos, and it really is that minestrone time of year, isn't it?

Garrett, thank you! Though you truly hold the place of honor here as being the creator of the first pea recipe to pass Freddie's lips ;)
Glad you like the soup.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

What a great idea for greens! Our CSA gave us about 10 different varieties yesterday and I was a little flummoxed, as they're not big with my son, and even my DH doesn't love greens on their own, but minestrone is the perfect solution!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Jen, it sounds like you're going to have a gorgeous minestrone on your hands there! How fabulous! Let me know how it goes!

Joanne Rendell said...

the minestrone looks incredible, amanda. and my congrats to freddie too!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Jo, thanks! He's such a champ, and I'm glad you like the soup!

The Passionate Palate said...

I can't wait to make this - and read more about other minestroni you will make this fall. This paired with your grape brushetta would be perfetto!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Passionate Palate, thank you so much! I hadn't thought of serving those bruschetta before having a bowl of the minestrone, but I love the idea! Thanks for thinking of that!

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