I have set myself a challenge of going to the supermarket an absolute maximum of once a week (though I do allow myself a quick dash into the village store to get fresh milk and fresh fruit in between). Robin is staying at home apart from our daily walk on the Bissoe Trail, owing to his advancing years and marginally dodgy ticker, so I figure that the fewer times I expose myself (and ergo him) to our new friend Corona, the better for everyone.
This means we end up with an odd collection of bits of this and bits of that in the veggie drawer, inevitably leading to either a cheesy-veggie tart or a bowl of soup. Last night we had severe storms down here on the coast, don’t you know, so soup was just the ticket. And the sourdough starter was calling to be topped up, so it seemed the perfect time to bake a couple of loaves of rye/durum wheat sourdough for dunking purposes.
We have a largish patch of wild garlic, growing inexplicably out of the bottom of the wall that divides our part of the front courtyard from our neighbour. Handily, our neighbour is quarantining with her family at the opposite end of the country, so the wild garlic is all ours. Hah!
After a quick review of the bits and bobs in the fridge, I decided on a spring minestrone – what the Italians call green minestrone, because it doesn’t have a tomato base (and yes I know carrots are not green, but you can’t have minestrone without carrot). I had cider stock left over from cooking a ham joint at the weekend, and also lobbed in some of the remains of said ham, but if you want to keep this veggie, just omit the ham and use vegetable stock (you could even just use water, as the veggies will give out loads of flavour as the soup cooks).
You can use any combination of vegetables – whatever you have to hand. Just use the list as a guide. I discovered I had no leeks, but had a rather sad bunch of spring onions, so I used those along with the wild garlic, which worked perfectly. Any kind of onion will be fine – and if you aren’t lucky enough to have wild garlic growing in the vicinity, just use a clove of ordinary garlic, finely minced or grated. Similarly, any kind of greens are fine to add in place of the kale – spring greens, cavolo nero, savoy cabbage, chard or spinach would be delicious.
I like pearl barley in my minestrone, because it adds a little starch to the stock, but rice or pasta work well too. If you are using white rice or pasta, add it for about the last 15 minutes of cooking (less if you are using something small like broken spaghetti or orzo).
Springtime ‘green’ minestrone with wild garlic & butter beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch spring onions (or a normal onion), chopped
2 rashers bacon or a little cooked ham (optional)
1 big handful of wild garlic, chopped, or 1 clove garlic, grated or finely minced
1 small leek, halved lengthways and sliced
2 sticks of celery, diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 small to medium potato, peeled and diced
1 courgette, diced
A handful of green beans, cut into bite-sized pieces
A couple of handfuls of peas or small broad beans (frozen is fine)
750ml stock or water
2 tablespoons pearl barley (or rice or small pasta shapes)
2 bay leaves and a few chopped leaves from some rosemary and thyme (optional)
1 x 400g (approx) can of butter beans, haricot beans or cannelini beans
A couple of handfuls of shredded kale, chard, spring greens, savoy cabbage or other greens
Several sprigs of fresh mint, finely shredded
Parmesan cheese (or veggie alternative) to serve
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the bacon (if using), along with the onions, garlic, leek and celery, and a generous pinch of salt. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and allow to cook for a few minutes until the vegetables have softened, but not browned.
Stir in the diced carrot, potato and courgette, along with the green beans and peas or broad beans. Add the stock/water and pearl barley (if using rice or pasta, add them later), together with the herbs and canned beans.
Cover with a lid, bring to the boil, then turn down to a gentle simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. If using rice or small pasta shapes, add them about 15 minutes before the end – if necessary, top up the pan with a little hot water from the kettle. When you are almost ready to serve, add the shredded greens and cook for a further three minutes.
Stir in the chopped mint, ladle into warmed soup bowls and sprinkle generously with cheese. Serve with lots of good bread for maximum dunking opportunities.