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September 2013



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Starving artists

Starving Artists cook Minestrone!

Minestrone! Who Knew?!

We’ve been cleaning house and digging through the mess that’s our storage room, allowing me to FINALLY get at my old bookcase. It’s been with me since I lived on our farm–as well as most of the books in it. What fun! Like meeting up with old friends...

I was delighted to find not only the original 1954 compilation of my favorite cooking author of all time, M.F.K. Fisher (The Art of Eating, now out in a 50th Anniversary edition) but the original 1942 war-years How to Cook a Wolf. I LOVED that book when I first discovered it in the 70's. (And hang in there, I'll be mentioning it more in coming articles!)

Fisher writes with humor, courage, and common sense, and not a trace of self-pity for hard times and making do. (Both books are in better condition than many new books, and just as timely.)

What to do when the wolf’s at the door? (A feeling some of us know rather well, at times...)

COOK IT, of course!

So what does that have to do with minestrone? It’s a hearty peasant soup, and inexpensive to make, but I always thought I didn’t care for that particular dish. I’ve tried it in numerous places, and my response was generally a resounding "MEH."

Her recipe DID sound good, though, and I had most of the ingredients on hand, since it just calls for bits of this and that...and it was a gray, cold winter day just begging for a hot bowl of soup...

She says you can add beans (white or navy-style) OR NOT, and add pasta OR NOT, so since the minestrones I’ve tried always had both, I decided to give the OR NOT recipe a shot.

Oh. My.


I’d just made a stir-fry, and had scraps of outer cabbage leaves, onion, carrot, celery tops and more left...rather than waste it, I started a soup stock. We had about a cup of organic tomato/squash soup left in the fridge, so I threw that in, too...plus a spoonful of the Beef Base I’ve talked about here before.

Sooooooooo...we had a head start. When I drained out the vegetables, the resulting stock was already pretty luscious. That was the deciding factor–minestrone it was!

And here it is...tweaked to my own kitchen, of course:

The Basics

½ lb. good bacon (we use nitrite and nitrate-free stuff) or a piece of salt pork diced or leftover fat ham.
1 small onion or ½ large one, chopped
1 stalk chopped celery
2 C. Tomatoes, diced (OR 1 can of those gorgeous all-natural fire-roasted diced tomatoes)
1 handful chopped parsley, if fresh or 1 T. Dried
1 t. oregano
1 t. sweet basil
or a nice shake of Tuscan Sunset, from Penzey’s Spices, yum, or your favorite Italian herb mixture
(I had some of our homegrown parsley to throw in--I'd chopped and frozen it last fall...)


Sauté the meat to render out a bit of fat; crumble bacon and set aside, and put the vegetables in the meat fat to glaze and soften.

Add the tomatoes and their juice to a big saucepan or stockpot, and add the vegetables and crumbled bacon/salt pork/ham.

Fisher says to stir in 2-3 quarts of water, but if you’ve got a good soup stock, as I did, add that instead. I added a can of all natural beef stock, too. Simmer, while you:

Put the below veggies through a vegetable grinder, Cuisinart, or just chop them with a sharp knife, which is what I did. I’m not big on noise, and I like to sit and chop...

1 more big onion (or two, we like onion, too!)
1 potato, skins and all, or a couple of small, tender young red ones, which I did
1-2 cloves garlic (Of COURSE I used 2. Big ones!)
½ small cabbage
3 carrots, if you like them–I do, J doesn’t, much, so I just used the half cup of chopped ones we had on hand
2-3 more stalks of celery

handful of spinach, if you have it
handful of green beans, ditto

(I had neither, so I didn’t add them...)

(And no, I don't know why this is in two stages...Fisher said to do it, so I did!)

She didn’t say to do this, but since I had the skillet handy, I sautéd the rest of the veggies before adding them to the soup pot...seemed to make them richer tasting. A nut-sized chunk of butter (I always wanted to say that! NOT a peanut. More an English walnut in the shell...) added to the pan gave me enough fat to fry them in, too.

Er, “sauté’” Forget I said fry...just lightly browned and softened...

I popped them in the pot and let it simmer 45 minutes or so, with a lid...no salt needed, actually, but I added a quick grinding of sea salt to my bowl...

If you’ve got other leftover veggies, throw them in too...I think almost anything but parsnips (which I love but might be a little too sweet) would work, here...leftover squash? Sure. Bell peppers? Why not. I had three little limp green onions left from our enchiladas the other night–I cut them into rounds and into the pot they went!

While that was simmering, we had some wonderful leftover garlic artisan bread I cubed up to make croutons...browned them in just a bit more butter (which if you’ve read this series long, you know is about ½ organic butter and ½ canola oil, here...Joseph keeps it mixed up for us...)

A great way to use up bread that's gone stale!

When the soup was done we ladled into gorgeous handmade bowls we got for Christmas, made by Jeff Walker, a local potter http://www.bestofmissourihands.com/jeffwalker.htm . (If you’re in the neighborhood, you can find it in Excelsior Springs, MO, at Willow Springs Mercantile, because I didn’t do it justice, it was full of soup!)

We topped it with a small handful–er, all right, a generous handful–of leftover pizza cheese and the grated Asiago, Parmesan, Romano mixture we love, and let it melt. A few croutons on that, and nothing else was necessary, though you might like a small salad...

Thank you, M.F.K. Fisher! I didn’t exactly use her recipe, but I learned that Minestrone can be REALLY GOOD, and looking forward to a rerun, tomorrow.


The painting is watercolor on Fabriano soft press watercolor paper, with just a touch of ink here and there...I got  to use the gorgeous new brushes recommended by my dear friend Laura Frankstone in this post: laurelines.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/12/what-i-loved-in-... I am SO pleased with them! As she says, they hold lots of paint and have killer points...they just DANCE!

**You can find more on these brushes, as well as M.F.K. Fisher's lovely The Art of Eating, in my Amazon store, here: http://astore.amazon.com/httpcathyjohi-20 --and yes, I do earn a tiny commission on anything you buy from my store or anything else you choose while you're there!  I ONLY put things in my store that I personally own or love, nobody sends me things to review or other freebies, so you know I'm honest about it!



mmmmm .... I love soup! It's snowing to beat the band here - a perfect day for homemade soup! The recipe looks good, and also, thanks for the link to Laura's blog. I'm going to try the brushes! nancy
You're going to LOVE it, Nancy (and the brushes, too! I just added them to my Amazon store to make finding them easy...) And you're welcome, Laura's blog is one of my frequent visits!


Soup and Brushes

I'll be saving your recipe and giving it a whirl - sounds FABULOUS!! Love the illo!

And yes, those brushes are awesome! I use those whenever I don't want to take my "good sables" and run the risk of losing them!

Re: Soup and Brushes

I don't even bother with "good" sables any more, I prefer these! (Besides, my cats like to chew brushes...>;-( )
The soup sounds great. Something that uses up the leftover bits is always a nice recipe to have.

That's the best commercial beef base I think. I have just received two of those brushes but haven't tried them yet.

great minestone!

Just cooked up a batch last night. MMMmmm! Four thumbs up (Wilma's vote, too). There's much more taste than I expected from such simple ingredients. The bacon ties it together well (I'm not much on pure vegetarian soup). This is a keeper.