Wednesday, July 12, 2006


It is freezing in Melbourne this week - the kind of cold that chills you right down the bone. Being someone who loves the bitter cold I find myself enjoying this time of the season immensely, but even I must admit to wrapping up warmly and staying inside whenever possible. Cold weather is soup weather; the only time of the year in fact that soup really appears in our kitchen despite the ease with which it can be prepared. Sure, you can open a tin, but what really is in those ‘wholesome’ looking packages? Tinned food can be really useful (think tomatoes and chickpeas especially), but lacks what naturopaths call ‘life force’, Indians ‘Prana’ and the Chinese call ‘Qi’, meaning the natural energy of fresh food, the vitality of fresh produce. And even though I am drifting into slightly New Age territory by saying it, everyone somewhere inside knows this to be true.

I recently had a discussion with a great friend of mine who, along with her partner has switched to a much more vegetarian and whole food-based diet. They are busy, vibrant and warm people who often get home late and don’t always want to cook a meal that takes forever. And they live in Sydney where life ain’t so cheap!

Not being a huge fan of the ubiquitous minestrone, I was surprised to find myself enthusiastically cooking this amazing version from Deborah Madison’s ‘Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone’ (why, oh why did I resist buying this book? Sure it’s uber-expensive and American, but if only I’d known earlier...). High in iron, packed with nutrients and great for lowering cholesterol, it is also the most delicious soup ever. The Artist was so impressed that he stopped me from cooking another meal the following night as he wanted leftovers.

Minestrone - serves 4-6

Adapted from the afore mentioned book, these ingredients are cheap and in season now. Humble as it is, this soup is super smart and keeps really well. Don’t bother to halve the recipe if feeding less - make the full amount and have it the next day. This is for Jo.

2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 onions, peeled and finely chopped

2 tablespoons of tomato paste

1 bunch of flat-leafed ‘Italian’ parsley

4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

3 carrots, (peeled only if not organic) diced

2 stalks of celery, diced

1 cup of green or brown lentils (French Puy lentils are definitely worth searching for)

2 bay leaves (fresh is best - growing your own in a pot is easy)

6 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 litres of water

Soy sauce or tamari

1 cup of pasta shells

1 bunch of spinach (or Silverbeet, stalks trimmed)

Shavings of Parmesan cheese to serve

Heat the oil in a large soup pot and add the onion. Cook, stirring often over a medium high heat until golden, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile chop most of the parsley, reserving 8 branches for adding to the soup later. Add 2 teaspoons of sea salt (trust me here, the salt for some reason doesn’t interfere with the cooking of the lentils), the tomato paste, chopped parsley, garlic and vegetables and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Add the lentils, reserved parsley branches, bay leaves and about 6 sprigs of thyme and water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, partially cover and cook for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile cook the pasta according to the packet instructions in plenty of water until al dente. Drain and reserve. Chop the spinach leaves roughly. When the lentils are tender, taste the soup -– it will taste a little bit flat at this stage, but when served is delicious with the other ingredients - – adding some soy sauce for depth of flavour. Throw in the spinach leaves and pasta, heat gently and serve with shavings of Parmesan on top.

N.B. try making your own stock, substituting it for the 2 litres of water if you have time. It makes a great soup even better, in which case omit the salt used in the soup recipe. Here is Deborah Madison’s (with a couple of slight changes) - my God, it is good!

Basic Veggie Stock

1 onion, unpeeled

2 large carrots

2 celery stalks, with some leaves

1 bunch of spring onions (shallots in NSW), greens as well

1 tablespoon of olive oil

8 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed with a knife

8 branches of parsley

6 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 fresh bay leaves

1 teaspoon of vegemite

Sea salt

Chop the veggies roughly into 2cm chunks. Heat the oil in a large saucepan then add the veggies, garlic and herbs over a high heat, stirring constantly for 5-10 minutes. The more colour they get, the richer the stock will eventually be. Add the vegemite and 2 teaspoons of sea salt, stir again and add 2 litres of cold water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Strain and use immediately or freeze in portions for later.

Easy and so much yummier than cubes!


Wendy said...

Love the cold too. And minestrone is one of my winter staples! As a regular meat eater I make a stock from a gammon joint then keep the boiled meat in the fridge to nibble on. :)

Lucy said...

I used to love salty, hammy stocks.

Alas, no more. Vegemite does play a crucial role in my stock, replicating something of that deep, salty flavour. ;)