Life is a minestrone

MinestroneTuesdays are usually diet days for us, which often means soup for dinner. One of our favourites is minestrone – loads of veggies and beans, with a bit of bacon sneaked in for added flavour. I think this is one soup for which good homemade stock makes a real difference between something that is okay and something that is really yummy. I also dispense with the pasta – there are always leftovers and the pasta swells into a horrid flaccid lump and soaks up all the liquid. Instead, I use pearl barley – an inspired idea from our friend Marcus, who made us this soup for lunch when we went to visit the Kennedy family in Melbourne a few years ago. I’ve been making it this way ever since.

My friend Jean is here from the UK at the minute, so we left the husbands to their own devices and set forth for a serious shopping day in Fethiye, our nearest decent-sized town. Robin isn’t necessarily what you might call an asset to shopping, so shopping days for me are rare treats, usually saved for when Jean is in town.

First stop is always Kahve Dünyası (Coffee World), which serves the best coffee in Fethiye. Frankly what is actually needed after an hour and a half of driving on Turkish roads is a very large brandy and a lie down, but we have to content ourselves with coffee. Kahve Dünyası also sells  divine chocolates – everything from chocolate-covered coffee beans and pre-tempered couverture to the most delicious posh truffles, all beautifully packaged and wrapped.

Fortified with caffeine and nerves calmed, we head for Fethiye’s Tuesday market, which is a parking nightmare (especially for me, as reversing isn’t really my thing – the car park man in Kaş leaps to safety behind a wall if he sees my reversing light come on), but we keep the faith and find a spot just a stone’s throw from the vegetable hall – all the better for schlepping back with our haul of strawberries, pumpkins, cheeses and the most enormous leeks.

These leeks could have been used as yardsticks

The cheese counter doesn’t have quite the same hygiene standards as Sainsbury’s – and yes, that is a real goat skin, inside which the cheese, bottom left, is maturing:

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And here are lovely jumbled up shapes and sizes of yummy veggies – nothing like the perfectly-formed but tasteless specimens we buy in British supermarkets:

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Now here’s an interesting shot – Converse has produced a new range of ‘fresh colours’ for its All Star sneakers brand, but I doubt they intended the colours to be quite this ‘fresh’ (nor do I imagine the retail price they had in mind was 15 Turkish lira…)

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Who’s that at the back? (Is that Jean caught in the act of buying fluorescent trainers?)

I could show you photos of the deeply attractive fleece pyjamas, beloved by the local matrons here. But I think that would be just too much for you for one day. Maybe next week.

Here’s the recipe:

Minestrone (thank you Marcus Kennedy for the pearl barley idea)

Enough for 4 – 6 people

If you don’t have all of these vegetables, that’s fine, just use whatever you have in the fridge and feel free to substitute others. If you want to keep it vegetarian, just miss out the bacon and use vegetable stock. It does look like a lot of ingredients, but most of them are veggies or just tins to open.

2 rashers streaky bacon or equivalent amount of pancetta or cooked ham, diced (omit for vegan/vegetarian version)
1 Fethiye leek or 2 normal sized ones – thinly sliced
1 small red onion – chopped
1 large carrot – halved lengthways and sliced
2 sticks celery – sliced
½ bulb fennel – thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic – grated or finely chopped
½ teaspoon chilli flakes (or use a fresh chilli if you prefer)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 x 400g tin beans, drained (borlotti, cannellini or kidney beans are good)
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes (or equivalent amount of passata)
Approx 600ml chicken or vegetable stock (a stock cube is fine)
1 courgette, quartered lengthways and then sliced
Handful of runner beans, sliced horizontally (they need to fit on the spoon)
A couple of handfuls of pearl barley
2 bay leaves
A sprig each of thyme and rosemary
1 heaped teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch of sugar
Grated Parmesan and chopped fresh basil or parsley, to serve (omit cheese for vegan version)
Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan and add the bacon (if using), leeks, onions, carrot, fennel, celery (and fresh chilli, if using) and a large pinch of salt. Stir to combine, cover with a lid and then cook over a gentle heat for a few minutes until the vegetables have softened. Stir in the garlic and chilli flakes (if using) and cook for another minute or so.

Add the tomato paste and stir well until everything is combined, then add the tinned tomatoes and stock and bring to the boil. Add the barley, runner beans, courgette and herbs, then turn down the heat, cover, and simmer for about half an hour or a little longer if the barley needs more cooking (though it should be cooked by this time and you don’t want to overcook the veg). Taste the soup and add a splash of balsamic vinegar and/or a pinch of sugar if you think it needs it. Season well with salt and pepper, remove the bay leaves and herb springs and stir in the fresh basil or parsley. Serve in large soup bowls with plenty of grated Parmesan or Pecorino and some crusty bread.


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