Bunny Bowl Winter Minestrone

Minestrone is one of those soups that is both comforting and familiar. In this version, adapted from Alice Waters' book The Art of Simple Food, we've matched comfort with an "oh my god" flavor combination that takes the whole thing to a new level. Conveniently, minestrone can be easily be changed to suit the seasonal collection of vegetables available at the farmers market on any given week.

The soup's number one "secret" is this*: cut everything into small pieces so that each spoonful is a complex taste combination; a bean, a piece of potato, a carrot, a little bit of sweet onion and the saltiness of a touch of Parmesan all hit your palate at the same time. You stare at the bunny on the bowl as if intoxicated and say, "Damn, this is the best Bunny Bowl Minestrone I've ever had!" Bunnies all over the world rejoice and you are happy.

Bunny Bowl Winter Minestrone
1 cup of dried cannellini, great northern or navy beans, cooked
OR 1 can of beans, rinsed and drained
3-4 cups of vegetable stock
olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
5 thyme springs
1 bay leaf
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 small leek, white and light green part only, diced
2 yellow potatoes such as Yukon gold or Russian butter, peel if you prefer, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1/3 head savoy cabbage, rinsed and roughly chopped
1 cup small noodles of your choice
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped OR 1 small can organic chopped tomatoes, drained
Parmesan cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
red pepper flakes, couple of shakes

Prepare dried beans in the usual way. That is, soak overnight if possible (but at least a few hours), drain, cover with plenty of fresh water. Toss in a small 2 inch piece of kombu and cook for 1-3 hours until done. They will be soft but not falling apart and mushy. Let cool and drain, reserving some of the liquid. OR if using canned beans, just drain and rinse with fresh water.

In a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and carrots and cook for 10-15 minutes, until tender.

Add the garlic, thyme, bay leaf and 2 tsp sea salt and cook for 5 minutes.

Add 3 cups of vegetable stock and bring to boil. When boiling, add the leek, potatoes, and celery. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.

Add chopped tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes. While this is cooking, heat salted water to a boil in a large pot. When boiling, drop in your cabbage for a quick blanch-- about 2 minutes. Remove with tongs, give a quick rinse with cold water to stop the cooking, and allow to drain. Next, return the same pot of water to a boil, add your noodles and cook until al dente (soft but with a little tooth--maybe 8 to 10 minutes). Drain and set aside.

Go back and taste the soup for salt and adjust as necessary.

Add cooked beans. If you have made your own beans you can add some of that cooking liquid here otherwise you may want to add more vegetable stock or water so that there is a nice amount of soup broth in the pot. Add the cabbage and the noodles.

Add a few shakes of pepper flakes and make one last adjustment to taste remembering that Parmesan will bring some salt to the soup. Cook for 5 to 10 more minutes to let all the flavors mingle.

Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Ladle soup into bunny bowls, top with grated Parmesan and pass with extra virgin olive oil or pesto if desired.

*This is a tip I learned from the Alice Waters' cookbook mentioned above.