It’s finally fall and the start of the best time of year here in north Florida. The humidity is blown away by cool breezes. The hum of the air conditioner fades away as the sun sets, and it is still dark when we wake in the morning.
For lots of folks, it is the start of the football season, and all weekend activity revolves around the game. For us, it is the start of soup season! If any of my four brothers is reading this, they are rolling on the floor laughing. I tried to make them soup when we were kids, and it was awful. I probably ruined soup for them for life. But with age comes wisdom, and I have learned a thing or two about soup. There is nothing better–okay, almost nothing better–than a fine pot of soup gently bubbling on the stovetop when we come in from the garden hungry and tired.
My favorite soup is a homemade minestrone that is made rich and flavorful with the addition of pancetta or bacon. The fall vegetables–carrots, onion, potato, and chard–are healthy and filling. And the secret ingredient, a Parmesan cheese rind, adds nutty, creamy richness to the soup. Make sure to use low sodium broth, because the pancetta and the Parmesan add just the right amount of saltiness. Soup that is too salty sucks!
Be creative with this soup, and use your favorite fresh vegetables and herbs or whatever you happen to have on hand. Try sweet potato instead of russet, kale or spinach instead of chard, whatever suits your fancy. I promise you, it will become your favorite soup, too!
Minestrone with Pancetta and Parmesan
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 ounces thinly sliced pancetta or smoky bacon, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound Swiss chard or kale, stems trimmed, leaves coarsely chopped
1 russet potato, peeled, cubed
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 fresh rosemary sprig
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained, rinsed
2 (14-ounce) cans low-sodium beef or chicken broth
1 ounce piece Parmesan cheese rind
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, pancetta, and garlic. Sauté until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the Swiss chard and potato and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and rosemary. Simmer until the chard is wilted and the tomatoes break down, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, blend 3/4 cup of the beans with 1/4 cup of the broth in a blender or processor until almost smooth. Add the pureed bean mixture, remaining broth, and Parmesan cheese rind to the pot. Simmer until the potato pieces are tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes, or until you finish your nap. Stir in the whole beans and parsley. Simmer until the beans are heated through and the soup is thick, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Discard Parmesan rind and rosemary sprig (the leaves will have fallen off of the stem.)
Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with some warm, crusty bread.