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Taste Your Vegetables

In Italian minestras, individual flavors shine.

By ADAM RIeD
September 27, 2009

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Minestrone comprises a long roster of ingredients -- pasta, beans, and vegetables from every corner of the garden, from carrots to zucchini. With so many veggies, none comes through really clearly, which is why minestrone usually seems overstuffed and busy to me. I prefer its more restrained cousin, minestra, which has one important difference: fewer types of vegetables vying for attention. With less competition, those ingredients play bigger roles in the bowl, which gives the soups more distinct personalities. A minestra bridges late summer and fall beautifully and, with garlic bread, is hearty enough for dinner.

Swiss Chard and White Bean Minestra with Rosemary

Makes about 3 quarts

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving

2 medium onions, finely chopped

3 large carrots, finely chopped

Salt

3 cloves garlic, minced

4 anchovy fillets, minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

2 large bay leaves

2 quarts low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock

1 piece Parmesan rind, plus grated cheese for sprinkling

1 28-ounce can white beans, rinsed and drained

2 bunches Swiss chard (about 2 pounds), stems chopped into ½-inch pieces and leaves finely chopped

Pepper

In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil until it ripples. Add the onions, carrot, and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, anchovies, rosemary, and bay leaves and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the stock and Parmesan rind, increase the heat to high, and bring to a simmer. Add half the beans and half the chopped chard leaves and return to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer to cook the vegetables very soft and blend the flavors, stirring occasionally, about 50 minutes. Remove the Parmesan rind and bay leaves.

Stir in the chard stems, remaining beans, 2½ teaspoons salt, and pepper to taste, and cook until the chard stems are tender and the beans are heated through, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining chard leaves, stir to mix, and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and grated Parmesan.

Eggplant Minestra with Tomato and Chickpeas

Makes about 2 ½ quarts

2 medium globe eggplants

(2½ pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

Salt

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving

2 medium onions, finely chopped

2 large carrots, finely chopped

2 ribs celery, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1½ teaspoons minced fresh thyme

½ cup fruity white wine

1½ quarts low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock

1 piece Parmesan rind, plus grated cheese for sprinkling

1 14½-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 14½-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Black pepper

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

In a colander set over a bowl, toss eggplant cubes with 1½ tablespoons salt. Place another bowl over eggplant, weight it, and let eggplant drain for at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours. Rinse eggplant and dry with paper towels.

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat 1½ tablespoons of olive oil until it ripples. Add a third of the eggplant and cook without stirring until bottoms of the cubes brown, about 3 minutes. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until eggplant is almost cooked through, about 3 minutes. Remove eggplant to a bowl, return pot to heat, and cook remaining eggplant in 2 batches, using 1½ tablespoons oil for each batch.

Return pot to medium-high heat, add remaining 1½ tablespoons of olive oil, and heat briefly. Add onions, carrots, celery, and pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and thyme and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add wine, stock, Parmesan rind, and eggplant, increase heat to high, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. Add tomatoes, chickpeas, 2½ teaspoons salt, and black pepper to taste, stir, and cook until chickpeas are heated through, about 10 minutes. Remove Parmesan rind; add parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and grated Parmesan.

Tuscan Kale and Squash Minestra with Pasta

Makes about 3 quarts

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving

2 medium onions, finely chopped

3 ribs celery, finely chopped

1 tablespoon fennel seed, lightly crushed

Salt

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

2 quarts low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock

1 piece Parmesan rind, plus grated cheese for sprinkling

1 small butternut squash (2 pounds), peeled and cut into ¾-inch cubes (about 5 cups)

1 bunch (¾ pound) Tuscan (dinosaur) kale, stems removed, leaves chopped

1 cup small pasta, such as orzo or ditalini

Pepper

Balsamic vinegar, for serving

In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil until it ripples. Add the onions, celery, fennel seed, and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the stock, Parmesan rind, and squash, increase the heat to high, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the squash is just tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Remove the Parmesan rind.

Add kale, stir to mix, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add pasta, 2½ teaspoons salt, and pepper to taste, stir to mix, and cook until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve with drizzles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and grated Parmesan.

Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at cooking@globe.com.