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
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.