Friday, May 3, 2013

Mom's "sweet" minestrone

There's a Japanese expression "ofukuro no aji." A literal translation would be "mom's taste/flavor." The closest English equivalent would probably be "comfort food" - something soothing, that brings back childhood memories.

But Ofukuro no aji particularly refers to a probably-universal idea that you'll always think the way your mom made a certain dish (usually a common dish that has multiple interpretations) is the best, or "the" way. Like the way your mom makes lasagna. Or meatloaf.

And usually, when you think of that dish, what pops in your mind is the way your mom prepared it.

This is especially true for me when it comes to minestrone soup.

When I crave minestrone, I don't envision the pasta-laden thick, murky soups that most supermarkets and restaurants have. Nor do I feel like meat should have any part of it.

What comes to mind is the way my mom made it - colorful with tons of veggies, floating in a clear broth, and the clean, sweet taste of tomatoes.

How does your mom make minestrone?

~ Mom's "sweet" minestrone ~

Makes 6~8 bowlfuls (depending on your bowls, and who's devouring it)

a few nice glugs of olive oil
1 medium onion
2 medium carrots
2 medium zucchinis
2 stalks of celery
4 of the reddest, ripest tomatoes you can find (variety doesn't matter)*
4~6 cups of broth or water
salt & pepper
optional: a handful of kale or savoy cabbage
optional: 1 can of beans (cannellini, northern, broad, etc)

*I usually leave the peels on my tomatoes, but if you want to peel them, here's a trick my grandmother taught me: make a shallow crosswise incision in the butt of the tomatoes, throw them in boiling water for 5 seconds, and shock them in a bowl of ice water. The peels will come off easily.

1. Chop all the veggies into small (1/2~3/4inch) cubes, or pieces of roughly the same size. If you're using kale/cabbage, just chop the leaves roughly.
2. Put a large pot (I like to use my Le Creuset) on medium-high. Once the pot warms up, add in the olive oil. The oil should swill around easily when the pot is hot enough.
3. Add the onions, sauté until translucent.
4. Add the carrots, sprinkle with some salt, sauté for a minute, then add the zucchini. Repeat this for the zucchini, celery, and tomato, so all of the veggies get incorporated with each other and the oil. (don't add the leafy greens yet!)
5. Pour in the broth/water in, bring to a boil on high, then lower the heat to low. Add the beans, and let the soup simmer until the veggies are cooked through and tender.
6. A few minutes before serving, toss in the leafy greens and cover the pot just long enough so the greens wilt.
7. Serve in thick, hearty bowls.


You can add more salt & pepper at the end, but I like to let each person salt & pepper to their taste.
For presentation, drizzle some nice olive oil, or float a dollop of creme fraiche.

Bon appétit!

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