Saturday, December 28, 2013

Minestrone Soup with Arugula Pesto

We met for our last dinner club of the year in a restaurant in Media, PA called Ariano.....there are some beautiful frescos in the restaurant.  We shared the most delicious appetizers, including Arancini – fried rice balls coated with breadcrumbs and filled with prosciutto, mozzarella and tomato, and two incredible pizzas.  We drank, laughed, exchanged Christmas gifts and, once again, expressed how incredibly lucky we are to share the weekly dinners with each other.  Our gatherings go way beyond the meal served.  There are chats, chidings and sometimes cries but most of all, we create treasured memories among dear, dear friends and this blog is loving chronicle of our highly anticipated Wednesday evenings.

Always grab the opportunity to create a memory.

The week before our restaurant rendezvous, it was Singer’s turn to cook.  I don’t know about you but, for me, winter is definitely soup weather.  There’s something comforting and warming about a bowl of homemade soup, accompanied with a hunk of fresh, crusty bread and a nice glass of wine.  When you’re a grateful guest in a friend’s home and soup is served on a cold winter night, even better, and we hit the jackpot when Singer served Minestrone Soup with Arugula Pesto.  She tinkered (as she always does) with the original Cooks Illustrated recipe and the results were amazing. 

The recipe is topped with pesto.  You know, pesto does not have to be limited to basil and pine nuts.  This particular pesto is made with arugula and parsley. You could use any leafy green such as spinach, chard or kale and any nut besides pine nuts….walnuts, almonds or pecans work nicely and will give the pesto an earthier quality.

Minestrone Soup with Arugula Pesto
Adapted from:  Cooks Illustrated

4 oz pancetta or bacon
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 carrots, sliced (or you can use butternut squash)
1 cup green beans, sliced
1 generous bunch of spinach
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves pressed garlic (I always use more garlic than called for)
1 pinch coarse sea salt
1 pound plum tomatoes or 1 large can of peeled San Marzano tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1 Parmesan cheese rind
1 bay leaf
Fresh ground black pepper
1 can of white cannellini beans
1 cup of small shaped pasta, shells or occhietti work well.

For the Pesto
1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 medium garlic cloves
1 cup packed fresh arugula leaves
1 cup fresh parsley leaves
7 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Place the tomatoes in a saucepan with the sugar and cook for 15 minutes until the tomatoes begin to loose their shape. Puree the mixture in a food processor fitted with a steel blade or with a hand-held mixer. Set aside.  Heat the olive oil and pancetta in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or soup pot, stirring frequently while the pancetta browns.

Add the garlic and onions and sauté until the onions begin to soften. Add the carrots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the celery and beans and cook for 2 minutes, then add the spinach and cook for 5-8 minutes. Add the pinch of salt and cook for an additional minute.  Add the tomato mixture, the Parmesan rind, the bay leaf, the pepper, and the stock to the vegetables and stir to combine. Cook, covered for 45 minutes.

Add the tin of beans, with their liquid. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat, cover, and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Add the pasta and cook for 10 minutes until the pasta cooked.

Toast the nuts in a saucepan until they are lightly browned, then combine the nuts, garlic, arugula, parsley, salt and oil in a food processor or blender until smooth.  Serve the minestrone with a spoonful of fresh pesto on top.

I hope you all had a wonderful 2013!

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