There are some recipes that will confuse you from the very beginning. They’ll ask you to cook something on low when medium seems more logical. They’ll call for slicing and not dicing, when you know in your gut that the vegetables will never lose their crunch in a 20-minute cook time. They’ll give you strict instructions not to stir, when every fiber of your being wants nothing more than to run a swift wooden spoon through the center of the pot. So goes the story of this garden minestrone soup from the Essential New York Times Cookbook. As it turns out, every fiber of my being was wrong. And every word of the recipe was right.
All hesitations aside, this recipe is a beautiful one to put together. There’s great color from all the fresh veggies, and the layered slices of tomatoes, onions and zucchini make for a visually appetizing study in deliciously circular shapes. Yes, the method did leave me a little uneasy; even Jared watched rather warily as I placed an entire shredded head of Romaine lettuce in an already-full pot. But about halfway through the cooking process, the skies begin to clear. The vegetables release their moisture. Ingredients begin to mix. Soup resembles soup. And all that wild confusion is nothing but a memory.
Adapted slightly from the New York Times Essential Cookbook (Amanda Hesser, p. 118)
• 2 large tomatoes, peeled and sliced
• 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 2 large zucchini, sliced
• 1 medium head Romaine lettuce, shredded
• 16 ounces frozen corn or fresh corn from 3 to 4 cobs (The original recipe calls for 2 pounds fresh peas, shelled, or one 10-ounce package frozen peas instead of corn.)
• 2 tablespoons minced basil
• 1 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
• 2 pounds fresh broad beans or lima beans, shelled, or one 10-ounce package frozen lima beans (I went the frozen route here, too.)
• 1/3 to ½ cup olive oil
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Put the sliced tomatoes in the bottom of a deep dish/pot that can go from stove to table (the original recipe recommends using a 3-quart casserole, but I used a 5-quart Dutch oven and filled it to the brim, so a larger pot is probably a good idea). Top with the sliced onions and garlic. Top with the zucchini. Add the shredded lettuce. Place the corn (or peas) on top of lettuce. Sprinkle the basil and half the parsley over the corn (peas), and top with beans. Sprinkle the remaining parsley and the olive oil over all. Be sure to follow the order, and do not stir or mix the vegetables.
Cover the pot, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables on the bottom of the pot release their liquid. Season with salt and pepper.
Now stir the vegetables, and mix well. Cook, covered, over low heat, stirring frequently, just until the beans are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Do not add water; the vegetables have enough moisture of their own. Serve hot or lukewarm, with Parmesan cheese.
We’re loving this soup in a major way. It’s lovely to look at, extremely healthy and delicious in such a pure, good-for-you-ingredients kind of way. And when paired with something carb-tastic like homemade crackers or cornbread, it’s more than enough for a meal.
Have you ever made a recipe that goes against your cooking instincts but you hunkered down and followed it to a tee? How did it turn out? Were there any surprises? Do tell!