There is no set recipe for Minestrone soup. At it’s essence it is an Italian mixed vegetable soup containing pasta or rice, and is usually made with whatever vegetables are in season. It is generally thought that Minestrone orginated in Genoa, where it is made with pumpkin, cabbage, fava beans, courgettes, kidney beans, celery and tomatoes, and garnished with three different types of pasta. However, the earliest origins of vegetable-based soup can be traced back to Marcus Apicius’s ancient cookbook De Re Coquinaria, which describes a Roman soup dating back to 30AD which contains a similar mix of pulses and seasonal vegetables.
Whatever the history of the dish, a good Minestrone soup, served with some crusty bread, can be served as a meal in itself. It is also a great way to use up leftover vegetables at the end of the week, especially if you have been preparing carrot or potato-based purees fro young children, and are wondering how best to use the remaining ingredients.
This particular recipe for Minestrone comes from Rachel Allen’s Easy Meals, but feel free to substitute whatever vegetable that are in season that you might have to hand (I left out the cabbage in my version). These quantities will serve 4-6.
2 tbsp olive oil
150g (5oz) bacon, cut into approx 2cm dice
1 onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large tomatoes, chopped
100ml (3 1/2 fl oz) red wine
1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints) chicken or vegetable stock
Pinch of sugar
1 x 400g tin of cannellini or flageolot beans, drained and rinsed
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
1 potato, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
1 stick of celery, trimmed and cut into 1cm dice
1/4 small cabbage, such as Savoy, cross removed and leaves shredded crossways
75g (3oz) dried spaghetti, broken into pieces
1 tsp chopped thyme leaves
2 tsp chopped parsley
4 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve
Pour half the olive oil into a large saucepan on a high heat and, when hot, add the bacon and fry for 4 minutes or until the fat has rendered and the bacon is golden. Reduce the heat to medium, add the remaining olive oil and stir in the onion and the garlic. Season with salt (but not too much as the bacon will be salty) and pepper and cook for 6-8 minutes or until the onion is soft but not browned.
Add the chopped tomatoes, red wine and stock and season with salt (again, not too much) and a pinch of sugar. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the beans and carrots, bring back up to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, then add the potato and cook for a further 10 minutes.
Season with a little more salt, then add the celery, cabbage and spaghetti. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until the pasta is tender, then remove from the heat and stir in the herbs and Parmesan cheese.
Taste for seasoning and serve with some more freshly grated Parmesan cheese scattered over the top.
The north wind doth blow,
And we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then,
He’ll sit in a barn,
And keep himself warm,
And hide his head under his wing,
And if he has any sense he’ll make himself up a big batch of this winter-warmer. As the weather starts to take a turn for the worse, this is a great dish to throw together when you’ve just arrived home, wet and cold, from work. You can experiment with the filling too, using whatever you might have in the fridge to save yourself going back out to the shops in the cold! The quantities below serve 2-3.
Preheat the oven to 200degC. Cut an aubergine into 1cm slices, sprinkle with salt and leave to drain for 15-20 minutes. Rinse to remove the excess salt and pat dry with kitchen paper. Peel a couple of tomatoes and cut into thick slices. Slice a courgette at an angle in 1cm slices.
Drizzle a baking dish with a few spoons of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle in some chopped spring onion and some chopped herbs (rosemary, thyme or marjoram are all lovely in this dish), arrange the aubergine slices alternately with the tomatoes and courgette. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with a little more oil and sprinkle over some more herbs. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through.
While the vegetables are cooking, make the crumb topping: melt a knob of butter in a pan and stir in about 50g of soft white breadcrumbs. Remove from the heat immediately and allow to cool. When the vegetables are cooked, mixed some grated parmesan in with the buttered crumbs, sprinkle over the top of the vegetables, and brown under the grill before serving.
Considered by many Swiss people as their national dish, the basic rosti consists of nothing but potato, and is mostly served as an accompaniment to other dishes.
Potatoes are such a versatile vegetable that you have a huge variety of options for how to use surplus spuds when cooking them for babies. The Guardian ran a great article during the week about how to cook the perfect potato rosti. Parboiling, then chilling and THEN grating the potatoes makes a big difference as the finished rosti loses the raw potato taste, but be careful not to over boil them or you could end up with more of a mashed potato cake then a traditional rosti – when cooked you still want to be able to recognize the grated strands of potato. Cooking with goose fat is a great indulgence (and I recommend using it to cook your roast potatoes too!), but if you don’t have a jar of goose fat, then use a spoon of olive oil with the butter instead – the oil will stop the butter burning.
When they start eating solid foods, babies can only eat tiny little portions of pureed fruit or vegetables at a time (1-2 tablespoons to begin with). In some cases it makes sense to steam or boil a large amount and then freeze individual pureed portions of foods that they will eat regularly (like Sweet Potato and Apple/Pear). But invariably you’ll still be left with excess fruit or vegetables in the fridge – if you want to avoid waste you can manage your own meals very easily to efficiently use the same food for both babies and adults.
For the first few months of eating solid food a baby has a very simple diet of pureed fruit and vegetables, so the opportunities to make anything for yourself is limited to using single ingredients. As the baby grows and their palate develops, they start to eat more complex foods like fish and pastas, which gives you more scope to make similar interesting meals for yourself.
We have accompanied this goulash dish with green beans and mashed swede.
For the green beans, top and tail them, and remove the strings if there are any. Wash them, then put them in a saucepan and cover with freshly boiled water. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 5 minutes until tender. Remove enough from the pan as per your babies requirements, and puree using a little of the water to get the right consistency. Allow to cool before feeding your baby. The remaining green beans in the pan can be served immediately with your own meal.
Wash the swede, then peel and cut it into cubes. As per the beans, put it in a saucepan and cover with freshly boiled water. Bring to the boil, cover, then lower the heat and simmer for 10-12 minutes. Remove from the pan and puree to a smooth consistency. Remove and put aside enough for your babies meal, and then add butter and pepper to the remaining swede to make a silky accompaniment to meat dishes. According to Nigel Slater, any other swede recipe is probably a waste of time.
Here’s Moveable Feast Jr enjoying his sweet potato and green bean dinner!
I had a huge amount of mashed potato left over from last night’s dinner, so I put in a container in the fridge to use for lunch today.
I chopped up some scallions, and using my hands added it to the leftover mashed potato, forming five balls that I flattened slightly. I rolled each ball in seasoned flour (plain flour mixed with salt and pepper), and then fried them in a mixture of butter and olive oil. At the same time I grilled some rashers until just crisp, and served them both together with a drizzle of Ballymaloe relish for a really quick, tasty lunch.