As I was mixing and kneading and patiently awaiting the rise of the ciabiatta, I imagined that a hearty minestrone would be the perfect match for the bread rolls. I could almost taste the contrast (and harmonious marriage!) of the sweet and salty tomatoey broth and the crisp, flavorful crust and chewy, open crumb interior of the ciabatta.
The issue was that my minestrone is more often than not a blander version of the hearty Italian perfection I was dreaming of...I took a quick look at ATK's recipes and Bittman's cooking bible and came up with the following broth base concoction:
To combat the blandness that sometimes plagues this wonderful soup, I first focused on the broth. Bittman advises roasting the ingredients that are used to make the broth. I decided this was too much hassle and instead chopped them very coarsely and browned them in a small Dutch oven.
- Parsley stalks
- Coarsely ground black peppercorns
- Fresh thyme
- Fresh rosemary
- Italian seasoning
- Chili pepper flakes
- Garlic powder
- Bay leaf
Bittman also suggests adding soy sauce + dried mushrooms and the water they were soaking in to add some complexity - I followed his suggestion and wasn't disappointed. The liquid helped with deglazing the dutch oven (at that point the vegetables were almost charred and stuck to it).
While it was simmering, I prepped the vegetables for the minestrone - more fennel, celery, carrots, a yellow pepper, onion. I also chopped 2 slices of reduced fat bacon and sauteed them a bit of olive oil in my large dutch oven until the bacon fat had rendered. I then added all the vegetables and cooked them until they were softened and lightly browned.
The broth was ready so I removed the vegetables that were used to make it and transfered it to the large dutch oven (along with the chopped soaked mushrooms).
ATK also suggests adding some V8 juice for optimal bright tomato flavor and vegetable taste - I simulated those attributes by blending a can of diced tomatoes with half of the vegetables that were cooked in the veggie broth. The other trick that ATK has is throwing a parmesan rind in the pot - mmm!
Off they went into the large dutch oven along with the 2+ cups of black eyed peas and the last of my weekly batch of kamut+ spelt wheatberries. After 15 -20 minutes of simmering, I topped the thick and hearty minestrone with fresh parsley and grated parmigiano reggiano (from Trader Joe's) and served it with the ciabatta. Voila!
...and finished off with Slaninka's delightful Christmas gift: