Sometimes I just want to eat something warm, healthy and light for dinner. Mammina Loreta and Papa Pierino taught me about eating lots of vegetables, small portions of pasta and moderate portions of protein; the way to a very happy and long life. In Italia, this is the natural approach to food and for me, why the Mediterranean diet is my choice over any other style of eating.
My famiglia made all forms of minestrone soups and stews that contained little to no meat, but plenty of vegetables and legumes. I will confess, I am not a huge fan of white cannellini beans as I have always found their texture a bit too gritty (I know, I know… they are so good for you!)
I tolerate chick peas (ceci ) but only a few of them at a time. I created this version of my simple Tuscan-style minestrone that uses quinoa, a protein-rich seed that is naturally gluten-free and absolutely delicious as a replacement for pasta and legumes.
You can certainly add your favorite legumes to this recipe as they will only enhance this already wonderful fall to winter vegetable dish. This can be made ahead and frozen for later use; I like to store it in smaller containers so I can defrost as needed (for only one serving or up to 4 servings at a time.)
This dish is a perfect way to enjoy a light nutritious dinner without feeling overly full and if you want to add an extra touch (and you can eat gluten!) go ahead and make my rustic pesto croutons and serve them along with this minestrone; letting them soak in the hot soup in honor of the wonderful regional Tuscan soup called “pappa ala pommodore”.
Note: This favorite pappa ala pommodore collected recipe of mine is by Sting’s private chef, Joe Spanzo, who worked at his villa, Il Palagio in Italia. His is an authentic creation to add to your own soup collection for fall and winter. I am also a huge fan of the regional wine that Sting and his wife Trudie cultivate and produce at their villa called “Sister Moon“.
quinoa e verdure minestrone con pesto ciabatta crostini rustici
2-3 zucchini squash
2-3 stalks of celery (leaves included)
2-3 carrots (peeled)
1 leek (washed & trimmed)
2-3 garlic cloves
1 16 0z. can of chopped or crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1 bunch of red swiss chard (cleaned & trimmed)
1 bunch of fresh baby spinach leaves
4-6 cups unsalted vegetable or chicken stock (preferably homemade or good quality organic store bought variety)
3/4 cup or so organic quinoa (washed and drained)
salt and pepper to taste
Finely chop the garlic cloves and cut the leek into small chunks; place in a large skillet on medium heat and drizzle with good dose of olive oil. Saute until tender and fragrant. Add in the chopped celery and carrots and season to taste; saute for 3-4 minutes until begins to soften and even brown very slightly.
Remove the cooked vegetables, leek and garlic mixture to a bowl and set aside; in the same skillet, add the chopped zucchini and saute for 4-5 minutes until softened and slightly browned.
Remove from heat and using a large soup or stock pot; set the heat to medium high and add in the stock to come to a slow simmer or boil. Once it comes to slow boil, add the sauteed vegetables and zucchini and let simmer for about 5-10 minutes allowing the vegetables to cook.
Add the canned tomatoes and a full can of fresh water (captures all the excess tomatoes in the can) and stir to mix well. Keep the heat on medium high and allow this mixture to cook slowly until it begins to reduce (it should start becoming a bit thicker.)
Add in the red swiss chard and baby spinach and let this simmer for about 4-8 minutes until tender and flavorful. At this time, if the soup is getting too thick; add additional stock or plain water to thin it out and keep at a slow steady simmer.
Continue to cook the soup as it condenses a bit more, add in the prepared quinoa and cook for approximately 5-8 minutes (add additional liquid if needed as the quinoa will also thicken the soup) until tender and cooked through; season to taste and adjust as needed.
Remove from heat and serve immediately with grated cheese to taste and pesto croutons. Set aside to cool and store in well-sealed containers in your refrigerator and freezer for later use, if desired.
Note: If you want a heartier dish try adding chicken, turkey or traditional beef & pork meatballs prepared “in bianco” (cooked without tomato sauce) to this finished dish. It would also be delicious served with roasted or grilled pork or chicken sausage, perfect for fall and winter meals.
rustic pesto ciabatta croutons (crostini al pesto rustico ciabatta)
1 loaf 1-2 day-old rustic ciabatta bread (replace with a gluten-free bread, if desired)
large bunch of fresh basil leaves
large bunch fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 to 3/4 cup grated romano or parmigiano cheese
2-3 small garlic cloves
2 tbsp or so pine nuts
salt and pepper to taste
Cut the stale ciabatta bread into large hunks or cubes and place in a very large mixing bowl; set aside.
Using a food processor, place the washed and dried basil leaves and parsley leaves into the processor bowl, add the pine nuts peeled garlic cloves and about half of the grated cheese.
Put the cover on the processor bowl, and using the spout begin to drizzle some olive oil in and process the mixture slowly. As the mixture processes, add more oil to create an emulsion and continue blending until all is combined.
Season with some salt and pepper to taste; add more cheese and olive oil if needed here and process until done.
Taste the pesto mixture and season again if needed, then and add spoonfuls of the pesto to the bread cubes and drizzle the bread cubes with a healthy dose of more olive oil; using a large spoon mix the bread cubes to coat well with the pesto mixture.
Place the bread cubes on a large baking tray and put under the oven broiler until all sides are toasted and golden brown (turn them as they toast). Remove from the tray and place on a large platter; sprinkle with more grated cheese before serving.
Note: Do not try to eat these croutons as is; unlike traditional croutons, this Italian version will be very, very hard and dry (due to the staleness), perfect for dropping into soups and stews where after a minute or two they will soften and add more flavor to the dish.
I eat this soup and many other like this with a spoon, knife and fork… it is truly satisfying and enjoyable. You can also use these delicious croutons in any soup you love like chicken soup, mushroom soup and even a hearty beef and vegetable soup.
Note: Photography provided by Annette L. Venditti