In many different parts of the world, chicken noodle soup or its local equivalent is regarded as the quintessential comfort soup, to be dispensed to those suffering from any one of various ailments, ranging from the common cold, through end-of-weekend ennui, to mild depression.
As a child, my preferred soup of a Sunday evening was cream of tomato, but I understand the appeal of chicken noodle soup. Maggie makes her version of it a few times each year and it is very happily received by her daughter’s household.
As a mature, well, older adult, my go-to soup for the last 20 years or so has been minestrone. Yes, there are pasta noodles, vegetables and chicken stock in the mix, but that is about all it has in common with the folksy cure-all. I never tire of minestrone’s variety of flavours and textures, and a richness that is balanced by the feeling of well-being that comes from its combination of comfort and nutrition. I like it, a lot, and I am no orphan in that regard!
Over the last five years, we – Maggie trimming and chopping, me fetching carrying stirring pouring and timing – have made and distributed hundreds of litres of minestrone to four generations of family members. To my parents, struggling to feed themselves adequately in their own home; to Maggie’s widower uncle, missing the pleasure of preparing meals alongside his wife; to Maggie’s soup-aholic daughter and son-in-law; to our grand-daughter Iris, a gourmand at 16 months – “chunky, please Pop, so I can feed myself tidily”; and, in-house, for me, because there are weekday lunchtimes when no other food appeals quite so much as a warm bowl of minestrone and toasted sourdough bread. And, just recently, to two of Maggie’s work colleagues and their grievously-ill husbands.
Of course, there are thousands of recipes for making a minestrone soup, including a vegetarian take on our recipe (no bacon, use vegetable stock). A few days ago, I found a recipe that included mostly green or white vegetables and only a splash of red. I will try that soon.
And note: I never add parmesan to a bowl of minestrone, unlike 10CC in their 1975 hit song. If the soup needs an extra dash of saltiness, I prefer actual salt to the texture of melted parmesan. And the washing up is easier!
2 tbsp olive oil
3 long or 6 short rashers bacon, trimmed and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 brown onions, chopped
2 sticks of celery, chopped
1 leek, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 medium zucchini, grated
600g tinned tomatoes, peeled and chopped (if using fresh tomatoes, supplement with 1 tbsp tomato paste)
1½ litres chicken stock plus ½ litre water
1½ cups shredded spinach leaves (or frozen equivalent)
100g rice-shaped pasta
400g can cannellini beans or butter beans, rinsed
1 tbsp chopped basil
- Prepare bacon, carrot, onions, celery, leek, garlic, zucchini and tomatoes. (It is a matter of personal choice as to how you chop the vegetables – coarse or fine both work well.)
- Heat oil over low heat in a large saucepan and sauté bacon, stirring, for 2 mins
- Increase heat to medium, add carrot, onions, celery, leek and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 mins
- Add zucchini and tomatoes, stir for 2 mins and add stock and water.
- Bring to the boil and simmer for 25 mins (30 minutes if you prefer your vegetables completely soft).
- Add spinach and pasta, and simmer for 15 mins, stirring occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking to the base of the pan
- Add beans and basil, and simmer for 5 mins