Every week, we spotlight a different food blogger who’s shaking up the blogosphere with tempting recipes and knockout photography. Here, Tara O’Brady of Seven Spoons recreates her mother’s minestrone soup, the standard against which all other minestrones are judged.
All photos courtesy of Tara O’Brady
I should say, traditional or not, Mum’s minestrone is the version against which I judge all minestrones. Hers has a tomato base, and a bit of beef, then it’s bulky with vegetables. When I was growing up, she’d use what was around, maybe corn and peas, always beans and carrots, and different shapes of pasta. What tied it together was oregano. The combination of oregano and tomato, the sweetness of the vegetables and the underlying savoriness of the beef, made it one of my favorite suppers. I’d blanket my bowl with a heap of grated Parmesan and enough black pepper to make me sneeze, and go to town. I still love how the cheese slumps into the soup, both creamy and salty, turning into chewy strands.
The butcher had short ribs on Saturday. Those became the foundation of my minestrone. Braised simply in a tomato and vegetable broth, the meat goes tender, the fat melting into the cooking liquid. The ribs were left overnight, then turned to soup the next afternoon. A quick base of onions, celery and zucchini was cooked with olive oil, dried oregano, and garlic, then in went the braising liquid, broth, and carrots. The vegetables were given time, cooked to the point they lost some color but gained all the richness of the broth; the squash especially, as I wanted nothing of the woolliness often found and its center. The short ribs followed into that mix, accompanied by two types of beans. After another simmer, everything was done, meeting up with bowls of pasta and greens at the table, vinegar for dripping, deeply green splotches of oregano oil, and the aforementioned cheese.
Think of that oregano oil as a rough-and-ready cheat’s take on an Italian salsa verde. It takes seconds to make, yet the almost aggressive hit of fresh herbs, garlic and chili is what lends moxie to the mellowed, stewy goodness of the soup. It is enthusiastically edgy. And on the topic of the pasta, I like a short, fat variety, think tubetti or macaroni, a kind that has a comforting chew, a sense of substance against the yield of the meat, beans and vegetables.
I like this soup for many reasons, for how it feeds a crowd, and for how it can be stretched even further to feed more; for its changeability and adaptability dependent upon season and circumstance; how it can use up leftovers, or made from scratch without fuss. I like that it is a soup I’ve known for as long as I can remember, for as long as we’ve had our kitchen table, and for the fact I get to introduce it to you.