Last week’s ratatouille would have been perfect, but the key word there is “last week.” I wanted to try something new and different, and settled on minestrone, an Italian soup with vegetables as a theme ingredient.
Hawkins let me know to expect Sanci and Elsbeth, so soup made the perfect meal to serve five people. After work, the gang began to arrive, and arrived hungry.
To start the soup, I sautéed two cups of diced sweet yellow onions with an equal amount of diced green peppers and about three-and-a-half heaping tablespoons of minced garlic in four tablespoons of flavorful extra-virgin olive oil. I know I’ve raved about the flavor of olive oil before, but give it a try for Italian recipes and in salads. You’ll be surprised just how much more you taste it than with other vegetable oils.
When the onions cook to a translucent state, add a cup-and-a-half of diced carrots and another of celery. Sautee until the celery begins to wilt. As with ratatouille, one of the key ingredients to the meal is squash. Slice two medium-to-small zucchinis thinly, and an equal amount of yellow squash. While stirring, add a half-teaspoon of sea salt and a teaspoon of fresh black pepper. To spice things up, add a quarter-teaspoon of crushed red pepper, two teaspoons of oregano, and four teaspoons of basil. Steam the vegetables in the covered pan for ten minutes before we move to the next ingredient.
Beans, love them or hate them, if you are a vegetarian, beans are a major source of protein in your diet. For this recipe, drain the liquid from one can of light red kidney beans and one can of garbanzos. Dump the beans in, stir well, and add two bay leaves. Instead of adding beef or chicken broth as many recipes call for, add about two quarts of water. Minestrone would not be Italian without tomatoes, so I sliced four large ones into eighths and added them in with a tablespoon of parsley. Since Mike drew the line even with beef or chicken broth, I decided to thicken the soup with a quarter-cup of tomato juice. That did the trick.
Simmer the soup on low for a good hour and a half. Should it begin to dry out, add more water as needed. The minestrone may need more salt and pepper as the recipe progresses, so taste and add lightly as you go.
Finally we add pasta. I’ve made enough soups to realize that adding pasta directly to soup will dry it out somewhat, so I boiled a cup of dried spiral pasta for three quarters of the length of time indicated in the directions, then added it to my soup in the last 20 minutes of cooking. Stir regularly, and be sure to add water if it gets dry. When the soup is done, garnish it with Parmesan cheese and serve in small bowls. It’s a hearty soup, not some leftover dishwater from a can. We easily made a full meal with minestrone, though we went back for seconds and thirds.
While waiting for Mike, and the soup to cook, I realized the usual suspects would be craving a snack. What to have? Ahh, the perfect solution, stuffed mushrooms. I didn’t realize that Mike would reject chicken broth, though for the most part, I made the stuffing without any meats.
Clean an eight-ounce package of fresh white mushrooms and remove the stems. Pat the caps dry, and place them on a baking sheet, gill-side up.
The stuffing itself couldn’t have been easier to make. Combine a half-cup of Italian breadcrumbs with a quarter cup of chicken broth. Blend one chopped green onion, two tablespoons of chopped black olives, a teaspoon of pimento, a half-teaspoon of garlic, a dash of salt and pepper, three tablespoons of fresh Parmesan cheese and a tablespoon of melted butter. To season, add a teaspoon of oregano, and a teaspoon of basil. To give yourself a nice, hearty stuffing, add one well-beaten egg and blend well. Stuff the mushroom caps and drizzle each with a quarter-cup of melted butter. Bake this for 30-35 minutes at 350 degrees, then garnish each cap with a pinch of mozzarella cheese, and a little of the Parmesan. Bake until the cheese melts, about five or 10 minutes, then serve warm.
Sanci and Hawkins raved about the mushrooms, and he taunted Mike about missing out on them. I had to tell Hawkins that they were not “Mike-friendly,” and that meant a few more for all of us carnivores.
After the mushroom starter, and some great soup, we watched “Da Ali G Show” on DVD to put Mike onto something new to him and quite fun for us. In fairness, we missed some of the program while we caught up on old times, old friends and new adventures. Mike enjoyed his short stay, with a hike at Lake Barkley State Park on Thursday, and some leftovers that night. It only takes one friend to make for an extra good time had by all, but having three guests that night was a treat. Good eating.