Let me just start by saying this recipe is not a 30-Minute Meal. Nor is it a One Pot Wonder, a Five Ingredient Dinner, a Fix-it-and-Forget-it Dish or any of the other cute little titles dished up daily in magazines, cookbooks, and, um, blogs exactly like this one. This minestrone, which Pilar first introduced me to in 2004, is not cute. It is messy and demanding and complicated. It involves forethought — you must soak the beans overnight. It involves rinsing and draining and mincing and chopping. It involves immersion blenders and strainers and Dutch Ovens and saucepans. And it involves time. A lot of time. The kind of time you once had on a Sunday afternoon before you had kids to shuttle to birthday parties or basketball games or before you started getting roped into marathon sessions of Monopoly. Which, if you are a certain kind of cook, is what makes the resulting freaking crazy delicious soup all the more special. Because yes, you must spend your entire afternoon in the kitchen making it, but…you get to spend your entire afternoon in the kitchen making it.
Adapted from The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, Giuliano Bugialli
8 ounces dried cannellini beans
1 slice prosciutto or pancetta (vegetarians & vegans: this can be omitted)
1 large red onion, minced
1 celery rib, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 carrot, diced
1/2 cup Italian parsley
½ cup olive oil
½ small head Savoy cabbage, chopped
1 ½ bunches kale, cleaned and chopped into small pieces
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into small squares
1 cup canned tomatoes, drained and seeded
1 small bunch Swiss chard, stems removed and cut into small pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Soak the dried beans overnight in a bowl of cold water. The next day, drain the beans and cook them in a large pot with 2 quarts of salted water and the prosciutto or pancetta. As the beans absorb water, keep adding enough hot water to maintain about 2 quarts of liquid at the end of the cooking time. Cook for one hour, then let sit on stovetop in pot.
Saute onion, celery, garlic, carrot, parsley, salt and pepper in the olive oil in a Dutch Oven or large stockpot for about 12 to 15 minutes. Add the cabbage, kale, and potato to the stockpot. Then add tomatoes, smushing them with your hands as you drop them in the pot. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, adding a little bean liquid every now and then if it’s looking dry. Then add Swiss chard.
Remove the prosciutto from the beans. Scoop out about 1 cup of beans with a strainer or slotted spoon and set aside. With a handheld mixer, blend the remaining beans in their pot, then pour bean puree into the stockpot with vegetables, stirring to combine. Simmer together for about 15 minutes more until heated through. When you are ready to serve, add the reserved whole beans. Add salt and pepper.
Ladle soup into bowls and serve with crusty bread, freshly grated Parmesan and a healthy drizzle of good quality olive oil.