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Tom Colicchio's Summer Minestrone
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"My minestrone looks like summer. And it tastes like summer.
But the way I make it also reflects my philosophy of cooking."
~ Tom Colicchio

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La Belle Cuisine


Tom Colicchio’s Summer Minestrone

The New York Times Dining & Wine Archives

This is the third of eight columns by Tom Colicchio, the chef and
an owner of Craft and Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan. They are
being written with Florence Fabricant

“My minestrone looks like summer. And it tastes like summer. But the way I make
it also reflects my philosophy of cooking.
I try to bring new freshness to dishes like this one that are so familiar to most of us.
I also think cooking — and cooks — should be flexible. Take something as simple
as a soup, even one that is thought of as a cold- weather dish, and go on from there.
Ask yourself what else it can become.
You can serve the soup hot, right away, or chill it to serve cold later. Reheated it
can be a base for other dishes.
It can be a sauce for pasta, something we do at Gramercy Tavern, or a mixture
for braising fish. It can be a side dish for meat. We serve it with lamb loin, but
lamb shanks would also be good. You could even use it for steaming clams.
This is the only time of year I'll make this dish, when the vegetables in it are at
their peak. It takes advantage of a lot of locally grown produce like peas, zucchini
and favas and also fresh basil and tender heads of young escarole, which you can
find in the best condition and with the best flavor and variety only from now until
the end of summer.
The soup is flexible because the list of ingredients isn't fixed. If you can't find something on the list here, skip that item or substitute something similar. Right
now there are lots of fresh beans on the market, like flageolets. You could add
them. If you like, at the very end you can add some peeled, diced ripe tomato.
It is important to include the escarole, however. It adds a certain bitterness and
gives character to the mixture.
Between the Greenmarket and certain farms that supply my restaurants, I know
I'm buying vegetables that are fresh and full of flavor. Home cooks might have to
go out of their way for ingredients like these because what is in the local super- market probably cannot compare. But it's worth making an effort and not com- promising. The flavor depends on it.
I'll admit this: The dish is a lot of work. It's easier in the restaurant because we
have prep cooks to do all the dicing. We cut everything uniformly and very small.
I like the look of it that way. You can go larger, but please, not too large. And the vegetables look best when they're chopped by hand, not in a food processor.
Maybe the hardest part is finding a big, heavy pot. It has to hold at least six quarts.
Once you've got one, add the ingredients gradually, so the oil in the pot maintains
the same temperature throughout. Add them too quickly and the temperature will
drop and some of the vegetables will have to cook too long as you bring the heat
back up. They'll get mushy.
I cook the fresh shell beans separately because they take longer. The peas, fava beans and green and wax beans are also done separately, shocked in ice water,
set aside and added at the last minute so they keep their color.
The soup is finished with well-seasoned vegetable stock. For that you take coarsely chopped onion, fennel, celery, carrots and leeks and simmer them about 20 minutes in water, then add aromatics like fresh thyme, tarragon, basil and bay leaves. Cook everything another few minutes, then strain it. You don't need any fat. Fresh stock
is so easy, why would anyone use a bouillon cube instead?
Once the soup is done, you could refrigerate it overnight or up to a few days and serve it cold. In that case, it's best to wait to cook and chill the fava beans, peas, green beans and wax beans, and add them, along with basil and olive oil, and even some tomato if you like, just before serving.
To serve the soup hot you might want to add more stock. Cooked macaroni would also be good in it. Or you might drain off most of the liquid — reserve it to use for another purpose — and reheat the vegetables in a sauté pan with cooked, filled pasta, like tortellini or ravioli.
You could also drain off most of the liquid and replace it with some rich chicken,
beef or lamb jus. Then you can reheat it to serve alongside roasted meat or
poultry or to use as a bed for braised meat like lamb shanks.
The minestrone is great for braising fish. You simply spoon some into a shallow baking dish, top it with fillets of seared fish and bake them 10 to 15 minutes. You have a one- pot dish, fish and vegetables.
And for shellfish, you could add shucked clams and their juice to the soup, making
it something like a chowder. Or you could drain off the liquid, use it for steaming open clams or mussels, and then put back the vegetables just before serving.
But the real delight for me is the freshness of the soup. There's no reason you
can't keep the freshness and the color no matter how you use it.
Look into your pot, with all the bright vegetables and fresh herbs, and breathe
in the rich aroma. This is food at its best.”

Summer Minestrone

Time: 1 1/2 hours

1 pound cranberry beans, shelled
1 small red bell pepper
 1/2 pound fava beans, shelled and peeled
1 pound peas, shelled
 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and
cut in 1-inch lengths
 1/2 pound wax beans, trimmed and
cut in 1-inch lengths
1 stalk celery, trimmed
2 leeks, rinsed and trimmed
1 medium onion, peeled
1 small bulb fennel, trimmed
3 medium carrots, peeled
2 medium zucchini
 1/2 medium eggplant
 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
5 to 6 cups vegetable stock
1 medium head escarole, trimmed and
coarsely chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup fresh basil leaves, loosely packed.

1. Place cranberry beans in a saucepan, add cold water to cover generously and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, blacken skin of pepper over open flame, peel, core, rinse, pat dry and cut in small dice. Set aside.
3. Fill a large bowl with water and plenty of ice. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add fava beans and peas and boil 6 minutes. Add green beans and wax beans, and cook 3 minutes longer. Drain vegetables, and place in ice water. When cold, drain again and set aside.
4. Cut celery, leeks, onion, fennel, carrots, zucchini and eggplant in uniform small dice, keeping vegetables separate.
5. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in an 8- to 10- quart pot. Add garlic and about a third of the celery, leeks, onion, fennel and carrots, taking care to maintain oil at a slow sizzle. Season with salt and pepper. Continue adding these vegetables gradually so oil keeps sizzling, seasoning as you go. When all have been added, continue cooking 3 to 5 minutes.
6. Add zucchini, eggplant and reserved red pepper gradually, so slow cooking in pot is maintained. Keep seasoning with salt and pepper. When all these vegetables have been added, stir in tomato paste and enough stock to cover vegetables. Bring to a simmer.
7. Add escarole, and cook about 6 minutes, until tender. Stir in cranberry beans and thyme. If serving immediately, add fava beans, peas, green beans, wax beans, basil and remaining olive oil. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if needed. To serve later, fill sink to depth of six inches with cold water and ice, and place pot in sink to stop cooking. When cool, set aside or refrigerate. When ready to serve, add fava beans, peas, green beans and wax beans, basil and remaining olive oil, and reheat to simmer before serving.
Yield: 6 or more servings.

“Indeed, stock is everything in cooking, at least in French cooking.
Without it, nothing can be done. If one’s stock is good, what remains of
the work is easy; if, on the other hand, it is bad or merely mediocre, it
is quite hopeless to expect anything approaching a satisfactory result.”

~ Auguste Escoffier, as quoted in 'The Pat Conroy Cookbook'

Featured Archive Recipes:
Garden Vegetable Minestrone
Ground Beef Minestrone with Red Wine

  Minestrone with Sweet Sausage
and Tortellini

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