Sunday, April 1, 2012

Early Spring Minestrone

Looking out my window at the sky, I realize that even though it’s still chilly in the mornings, winter’s back has finally been broken. The ground is moist and ready to come alive with another beautiful spring here in the Sonoran desert. So I’ll get the weeds out of my yard and then till the garden. I love going over to the Home Depot and buying the little packs of baby peppers, tomatoes and so on. I garden just for the fun of it. If my mind gets occupied with other tasks I let the garden go long before I reap its rewards. My sister is a true master gardener. Which brings me to my point… Fresh Produce!

I was pleased to drop by a farmers market last weekend. I wish the readers could have seen the freshness and variety of greens and vegetables. I stop by on a regular basis. I like to see what’s available and then build a meal around those fresh vegetables. The Farmers Market is a fantastic resource for a community. Yes, I shop at my local grocery store for produce the rest of the week, but on Saturday morning it’s so nice to walk through the market. I get a cup of coffee, and then shop and chat with old friends and neighbors. Then I’m back home working out a meal plan using my fresh produce. Several years ago I came up with this recipe for a light variation on minestrone.

Early Spring Minestrone

I know Italian food purists will argue with this recipe. But there is a school of thought out there that says regional dishes follow the seasons. Winter minestrone is heavy with medium sized pasta and a beefier feel. As spring approaches, with so many fresh vegetable choices, I wanted to make a lighter and yet very comforting soup. This delicious recipe is a starting point rather than a strict road map. The flavors are based around the fennel, onions, garlic and pesto, with the other vegetables and pasta. Use whatever is fresh and whatever you have on hand. Serve with fresh bread, which is also available at the farmers market.

1 fennel bulb, stems and core removed and chopped fine

1 bunch scallions, chopped fine

2 cloves garlic, minced

5 Tbl. Extra virgin olive oil

8 to 10 cups of chicken broth (enough to cover by a few inches)

½ head cauliflower, cut into small pieces

6-8 stalks asparagus, woody stems removed and cut into 1-inch pieces

4 or 5 baby zucchini cut in half

4 or 5 baby crooked neck squash, cut in half

A handful of green beans cut into bite sized pieces

4 or 5 baby carrots

a handful of sugar snap peas

4 or baby corn

(I just walk through the market and get a little of what ever looks fresh)

1 14oz. Can redi-cut tomatoes

4 or 5 ounces of dried spaghetti or angle hair pasta broken into quarters

a pinch of good Greek oregano

Black pepper to taste

Over medium heat, in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, sauté the fennel, onion and garlic, slowly until soft but not browned. Add the chicken broth and then all other vegetables and the pasta, oregano and black pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve in big soup bowls with a dollop of fresh pesto (don’t you dare use the store bought stuff).

Serves 6 to 8

Fresh pesto

Also use this amazing condiment or fresh bread, homemade pizza, over pasta and with grilled meats, poultry and fish!

¼ cup pine nuts

2 cloves garlic, Minced

2 tsp. Kosher or sea salt

a grind or two of fresh black pepper

4 oz fresh basil leaves

1/3 of a cup of extra virgin olive oil

1/3 of a cup of fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Pulse the pine nuts, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor, until it forms a coarse meal. Add in the basil leaves and oil and pulse until it forms a coarse paste. You will need to scrape down the sides of the food processor a few times in the process. Remove from food processor to serving bowl and stir in the parmigiano reggiano.

Make about 2 cups


Mad Coyote Joe

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