I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this, but I have a bit of a Jamie Oliver crush. When my husband and I were engaged, we started watching “The Naked Chef” (a nickname for the way he strips food down to its bare essentials) on The Food Network, and my husband gave me a couple of his cookbooks for Christmas. I have some really fond memories of us in our little condo, side-by-side, cooking our way through the books. Jamie’s style is kind of raw and laid back, so his recipes aren’t fussy, and there’s room for error and creativity (both of which I can always use). When he started his mission to turn around the school food system (The Food Revolution), I fell in love just a little bit more. Sure he’s charming and adorable, and in the media spotlight now and again, but make no mistake, this guy’s the real deal. If you want to clean up your diet, without losing major flavor, Jamie’s your man.
Jamie’s put out a slew of cookbooks since his Naked days, but 10 years and two kids later, I still go to some of those early recipes. His Minestrone Soup is one I make several times a year, all year round. I like it because it’s beefy (without the beef), easy, really tasty, and both my kids will eat it. Well, parts of it. My 8-year-old likes most of it, and my 5-year-old kind of weeds through the veggies to get to the good stuff (the beans and pasta). I figure it’s still pretty good, since the soup is chock full of nutrients, he’s slurping them up somewhere in between.
The other thing that’s great about this soup is you can throw in just about whatever you want, preferably what’s in season, and it will turn out pretty much the same. I’ve put my own spin on Jamie’s, substituting beans, chickpeas and a sampling of other veggies my kids like for the ones he uses. To save time, I use a large can of tomatoes instead of scoring fresh ones like Jamie does – works just fine. (Note: the olive oil and parmesan on top is key!)
Serve with some good, crusty bread and a simple salad. Our favorite is just arugula with a basic balsamic dressing – equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. (Something else I’ve discovered: veggies doused in vinegar, balsamic or otherwise, go down easier!)
1 large can of whole tomatoes (28 oz)
3 medium carrots
1 medium red onion
3 stalks of celery
1 head of chopped cabbage (or 1 cup fresh corn)
1 14-oz can chickpeas
1 14-oz. can northern white beans or kidney beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves of garlic finely sliced
1 heaped tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
3 cups vegetable (or chicken) stock
3 good handfuls of fresh basil
1/4 – 1/2 cup of your favorite small pasta (macaroni, orzo, etc.)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
parmesan cheese, grated
Chop carrots, onion and celery in bite-size pieces. Wash and roughly chop the cabbage. Sweat the carrots, celery, onion, garlic and rosemary over medium heat until just tender (about 15 minutes).
Add the canned tomatoes and cook for 12 minutes.
Add the stock, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes, skimming if necessary.
Add the cabbage (or corn), cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes, then add the torn-up basil and the pasta, which will absorb the flavors of the soup.
Simmer for a further 5 minutes or more.
Taste and season with salt and pepper.
The soup should be quite thick and full in flavor, and the cabbage shouldn’t be overcooked; you want to retain its deep color. Serve with a few drizzles of peppery extra virgin olive oil and fresh parmesan.