Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Eating Omily: Summer Soup and Gourmet Sandwiches

Whew, what a week! I've got tomato gunk stuck in my wedding ring from the Great Tomato Canning Escapades this morning...but that deserves its own post after I recuperate! I've got pictures!!

Last week I noticed a whole lot of awesome veggies looking a little pouty in the crisper: not one but two onions half chopped and relegated to tupperware, a bell pepper the same way, and another with a big squishy spot, and a rather flaccid carrot. And of course, plenty of squash, looking simply ageless. Only one thing to do with a situation like that: Minestrone! 'Minestrone' (which I pronounced 'mina-strone' for years before realizing that's a long 'e' on the end) roughly means, 'big soup.' Any soup with a variety of veggies can be called a minestrone, although a 'Summer' minestrone with beans or pasta is what you commonly get when you order this delicious nutrition-powerhouse in restaurants.

Seeing as it's Summer, that's approximately what I made: sturdy soup pot with plenty of olive oil on the bottom, heated until it ripples a little when the pan is tilted, and then all my onions chopped up added, along with a lone, rather sad carrot. Everyone knows how great onions are when allowed to cook in plenty of fat for a while, but there are other aromatics out there, and they all respond beautifully to this treatment: garlic, carrots, sweet peppers, celery, and fennel are the main ones. I added the garlic after the onion and carrots had gotten soft and sweet, and started to gain a little color, since garlic doesn't take nearly as long to cook, and tastes bitter when browned. I also added lots of salt (way more than the veggies currently in the pan needed, but still not quite enough to season the whole finished soup) and some dried herbs. I added some chopped new potatoes next, along with the squash, more of that than anything else, and tossed it in the hot pan, letting it get a head start.

Meanwhile, I pulled a handful of string beans out of the freezer and chopped those, leaving them in a bowl to thaw, and chopped up some of the tomatoes out of a can I had opened for emergency sauce the day before (I'll get back to that recipe, too; it's dynamite!). I added the tomatoes and juice to the pan, and then just enough water to cover everybody. Since the green beans had been blanched before I froze them, and I like my bell pepper to keep a little crunch, I held back on those until the squash was all but perfectly tender. I stirred in the string beans and bell peppers, and some left-over beans in their cooking liquid that had been on their last legs. In just a few more minutes, the soup was done, and yum!! With crackers or whole-grain bread, this is an amazingly delicious and satisfying meal, not to mention totally vegan, if you're into that kind of thing!
And just like fritattas, minestrone is not just a summer meal. In the cooler months winter squash adds a silky texture, and hearty kale adds a shot of fresh green flavor! Beans or pasta are lovely in the soup, but should be cooked separately and then added. Potatoes, especially the starchy storage sort, add a lovely velvety texture when cooked long enough to start falling apart, along with protein and more potassium than a banana! Onions and garlic store well and are available at most Farmer's Markets as long as they're open. Carrots are easy to find in the Fall, too, usually.

My husband insisted I blog about lunch too, although I thought it was less impressive. I took two of the multi-grain frozen croissants I caved and bought at Trader Joe's, baked them most of the way, pulled them out, split them, and layered them with some sauteed squash, onions, and peppers I found in the fridge, and some fresh mozzarella cheese. Skip did just mozarella. We put the croissants back into the oven for five more minutes to crisp up, heat the toppings, and melt the cheese, and when they came out, we added fresh sliced cherry tomatoes, basil, and balsamic vinegar. Ok, so maybe they were pretty impressive.

Sometimes I think I will miss Summer, the almost surreal constant over-the-top bounty of so many veggies, coming in by the truckload...but then I think about the cool snap in the air, the leaves changing, the concord grapes popping up by the two-quart box, popping the seal on a jar of tomatoes I canned myself, and pumpkin soup of course...nope, I won't miss it.

Enjoy it while it's here, kids!


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