With some cold weather (we have snow in the forecast tonight!) settling into our area, it’s the perfect time to make a heartwarming soup. Minestrone is a classic Italian soup and has many variations, usually made with meat, vegetables and pasta. This recipe is easy to put together and has tons of homemade flavors. It starts with sweet Italian sausage and is built with sautéed onions, carrots and celery, and then fire-roasted canned tomatoes, beef stock, a bay leaf and a parmesan rind (see my tips & hints) are added for a rich, deep flavored broth. It simmers for 45 minutes to three hours – the longer the better, which also gives the parmesan rind more time to melt into the soup. Ditalini pasta (small tubes), cannellini beans, green beans and baby spinach finish off this rich and satisfying soup. In my book, a savory crouton is a great way to dress up a bowl of soup; a flavorful gremolata mixture makes a delicious crouton topping to enjoy with the minestrone.
The croutons are simple to make with just a few ingredients. A gremolata is traditionally made with parsley, garlic, olive oil and lemon zest; I have added parmesan cheese to give a little crispy crust when the croutons are toasted. Slices of bread are lightly toasted, a garlic clove is rubbed on the bread, it’s topped with the gremolata and toasted until lightly golden. For a pre-dinner nosh another time, you could enjoy these croutons on their own (or with some good prosciutto, thinly sliced) with a glass of your favorite wine, or cocktail.
If you prefer, a flavorful turkey sausage can be substituted for the Italian sausage. And if you are gluten-free, omit the pasta. I hope your dinner table will soon include some heartwarming bowls of minestrone soup and unforgettable croutons. Cheers.
Eat well and share the love!
Minestrone with Gremolata Parmesan Croutons
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Serves two foodies, plus leftovers
8 ounces ground sweet Italian sausage
½ cup diced sweet yellow onion (about ½ small onion)
½ cup diced carrot (about 1 large)
½ cup diced celery (about 2 stalks)
1 clove garlic, minced
(1) 14.5 oz. can fire-roasted chopped tomatoes
4 to 6 cups low-sodium beef stock
1 bay leaf
1 parmesan rind
1/3 cup uncooked ditalini pasta (small tubes)
1 cup packed baby spinach leaves
1 can of cannellini (white northern) beans, drained
10 to 15 small green beans, cut into ¼ inch pieces
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh cracked pepper
Gremolata & Croutons
4 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese, plus some for topping
Pinch of kosher salt
5 to 6 grinds of fresh-cracked pepper
4 to 5 slices of French bread (or similar), cut on the diagonal
1 clove garlic, peeled
In a 4 or 5 quart Dutch oven (or medium stock pot), heat to medium and add a few drizzles of olive oil so the sausage won’t stick to the pan. Add the sausage and cook until crumbled and browned, about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Wipe out the pan.
Return heat to medium-low and add 2 tablespoon olive oil. Add the onions, celery and carrots with ½ teaspoon salt and 1/16 teaspoon of fresh-cracked pepper; sauté, stirring often, until vegetables are soft and tender – about 20 to 25 minutes. Add the garlic and let cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the canned tomatoes, 4 cups beef stock, the bay leaf and the parmesan rind. Let simmer on low heat for 45 minutes to 3 hours.
About 30 to 45 minutes (45 to 60 minutes for high altitude) before serving, stir in the pasta, spinach, cannellini beans, chopped green beans, ¼ teaspoon salt and a few grinds of fresh-cracked pepper; let simmer on medium-low heat until pasta is just tender. If needed, add more beef stock to thin out. Serve soup hot with gremolata parmesan croutons (recipe follows).
In a small bowl, mix together the parsley, olive oil, lemon zest, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. In the toaster oven or under the broiler, lightly toast croutons and then rub with the garlic clove. Drizzle with olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper. Add 1 ½ teaspoons of the gremolata mixture to each crouton and spread out. Top with a light sprinkle of parmesan cheese and lightly toast until bread edges are golden and mixture is warmed through. Serve warm.