Once the first frost hits during winter in Canberra, it's time to reach for the long johns and snuggly blankets, and hibernate. Steaming hot soups are back on the menu, offering fuel and comfort food. So let's gather a few of my favourite ingredients, combine them with some hand-picked herbs and home-made stock, and let them simmer away until a delicious aroma fills the kitchen.
Last week (before I broke my foot), I pulled my shiny red French Oven out of storage and used it to make minestrone. Since borrowing a vintage burnt orange version from my MIL on a few occasions in the 1980s, I'd coveted one of my own. When my MIL passed away, her daughter inherited that piece (rightfully so). I'm afraid I wasn't prepared to pay the price tag of up to $500 attached to some brands (even when I co-owned the cookware store!). Then earlier this year, I found one in Aldi and snapped it up for $19.00. I have a few different pieces in their range. The quality is excellent as far as I'm concerned. A fair bargain, methinks. What say you?
Funnily enough, two nights ago there was a conversation on Twitter between my friends and fellow bloggers Celia and Mel about a six piece Le Creuset set that Mel spotted in her local Costco for $700.00 (well, $699.99 to be precise). Not bad value, I suppose, but when it comes to enamelled cast iron purchases I think I won in the money-saving stakes.
Celia commented that she had given her entire set of Le Chasseur away to her brothers and sisters in law (with a huge sigh of relief, apparently). She purchased Emile Henry clay ware instead, as she disliked the heavy weight of the pots and also found them difficult to clean. Agreed, sometimes things will catch in the base of enamelled cast iron cookware, which is why I will sometimes use a heat diffuser. On cleaning, yep, I agree there too. The instructions suggest a small amount of bleach to get rid of staining. I always dilute it down and wash the pot thoroughly afterwards. That said, I do also love clay and ceramic bakeware. A girl can never have too much, right?
Mirepoix... the holy trinity...
So now on to my recipe for Minestrone. We start with a mirepoix which, as you will know, is considered the 'holy trinity' in cooking. Here I'm using brown onions, tender stalks of home grown celery and some carrot. I've also added home grown garlic and a good handful of mushrooms to my recipe.
MINESTRONE A LA LIZZY
1 small smoked bacon hock
1 large brown onion, finely chopped
4 tender stalks of celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
400g can peeled and chopped tomatoes
few sprigs fresh lemon thyme
1-2 litres vegetable stock or water
400g can red kidney beans, drained
1 cup macaroni, cooked until almost al dente
2 cups button or baby Swiss brown mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped, to garnish
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
extra virgin olive oil, to serve
crusty bread, to accompany
Wash the hock, remove any bristles and cut some slits into the skin with a sharp knife (this will allow the flavoursome juices to escape from the hock). Place it into the bottom of a large heavy based pan, together with the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, canned tomatoes and lemon thyme. Cover with the water or vegetable stock, bring to a gentle boil, then gently simmer for an hour until the meat is starting to fall away from the hock bone.
Add the kidney beans, mushrooms and pasta, and simmer gently for a further 20 minutes or so, until you have a rich, flavoursome soup and the mushrooms are tender. Check the flavour and season to taste with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. To serve, remove the sprigs of thyme, chop the meat into bite-sized cubes and spoon the soup into bowls over the meat. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, top with parsley and serve with crusty bread. Serves 4-6. Note: if preferred, you can gently saute the Mirepoix in a little olive oil before adding the hock and other ingredients.
Red kidney beans, a staple in my larder...
Home-grown lemon thyme... another favourite...
Cookin' with gas and my shiny French Oven (purr)...
Tell me dear readers, have you ever coveted a certain pieces of cookware? Do you prefer ceramic ware, enamelled cast iron, or another? And do you like to hibernate on chilly winter days?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.