In my first book, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, this recipe was known as “Potage ‘Minestrone’ a la Ma Mere,” since all the recipes had French names. This is neither French, nor strictly speaking, even minestrone.
Instead, it served as a catch-all flexible soup recipe into which my mother could leverage the various leftovers from our dinner table. With five kids on a Michigan farm, my mother couldn’t afford to waste anything. So she kept a lime-colored plastic bin in the freezer. Whenever something was left over – say a fistful of green beans or a few roasted potatoes or the remnants of a meat loaf – then into the bin it went. The soup was never the same. In summer, she added fresh tomatoes. In winter, squash made frequent appearances. She made sure to give soup the three things it needs to turn out well: a good base of flavor, plenty or salt and at least a couple of hours to simmer. Do not think you can fool the soup gods by madly trying to boil a pot of soup for 30 minutes. It doesn’t work.
I like to make a thick bouquet garni by tying together several sprigs of fresh oregano, thyme and/or parsley and a bay leaf and throw it in the pot, and then remove before serving, but if all you’ve got is a bay leaf, go for it. You can use a blend of spices such as Herbs de Provence or Italian Herb seasoning or whatever flavor you prefer. I use canned fire-roasted tomatoes for this and white beans, but you can also use red kidney or navy. Fresh basil chopped into bowls adds a fresh flavor if you’ve got it. Try to use fresh stock; it does make a difference in soups. Here’s a recipe. Makes about 8 to 10 servings. - KF
1 ½ pounds (750 grams) lean stew meat, cut into bite-sized cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 quarts (2 liters) beef stock
1 cup (250 ml) spaghetti sauce
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14-ounce) can beans (400g), drained, rinsed
1 (28-ounce) can canned tomatoes (800g), undrained
1 tablespoon dried mixed Italian herbs
Bouquet garni (see above)
2 to 3 cups frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
or leftover vegetables cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup (250 g) elbow macaroni or other pasta
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
DashTabasco, salt, pepper to taste
¼ cup (60 ml) grated Parmesan cheese
In a 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven or stockpot, sear the meat in oil over high heat until very brown. Remove meat from pan, pour off excess fat and oil. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook until tender, stirring around the bottom and edges of the pan. Add the stock, browned meat, spaghetti sauce, garlic, beans, tomatoes, herbs, bouquet garni and a few grinds of fresh pepper. Bring to a boil, skim, then cover and reduce heat to simmer for about two hours. Skim and stir occasionally. If needed, add more water during cooking. Add the macaroni and the vegetables and cook another half hour. If desired, finish the soup with some butter, and stir through until melted. Check the seasonings, adding salt, pepper andTabascoto taste. Sprinkle a bit of Parmesan atop each bowl when served.