It's no surprise to anyone who has been in my living room, but I have a wee bit of a cookbook addiction. At this current moment most of my collection is anchoring my book Christmas tree, but usually they sit piled on my largest book shelf and also stacked around the bottom of it. I read them like novels, use them for inspiration, and even cook the recipes on occasion. I say "on occasion" and not "all the time" because the truth is that I now have so many I could never hope to cook out of all of them (the first stage is acceptance, right?), and sometimes the best ones for reading are the worst for cooking out of (subrecipes, go die). But, like any collector, I do have my favorites, the tried and true gems that I turn to again and again when I'm at a loss for what to cook.
Probably the one I turn to the most is Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. You could argue that any of his books are required additions to any cookbook collection, but as someone who loves vegetables and doesn't cook with meat all that often, this book is indispensable, and one that's been in the kitchen of the many apartments I've lived in for at least the last 6 years, so clearly I'm not the only one who thinks this way. This year, I finally decided I needed my very own copy, and honestly, it was mostly because of this very recipe for minestrone.
What to say about it? It's simple, yes, and easy to make, and on first glance is no more than a bunch of vegetables added to a pot and cooked together for barely more than half an hour. But somehow, the end result is so comforting, filling, and just plain good that it becomes more than the sum of its parts. And its endless customizability makes it perfect for any season or any special diets you need. I've made it when I'm sick, when I'm cold, when I need to mainline some veggies, and when I want to feed family something good when they get off a plane. Over the years I've figured out my ideal components and additions, and I'm sharing it today because most of us are about to embark on a weeklong frenzy of roast meats, cheesy potatoes, eggnog, cookies, and booze. If in the middle of all that you start to feel a need to fill up your veggie deficit, this soup is the answer. And, just because it's Christmas, and at Christmas you give yourself something nice, the fried toast is a perfect, luxurious accompaniment.
Minestrone with Fried Garlic Toast
Adapted from Mark Bittman
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for soup
- good pinch red pepper flakes
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 1 large carrot, sliced
- 2 cups small marble potatoes (or fingerlings), cut in half
- dried herbs (1/2 tsp each of basil, rosemary, thyme, parsley, oregano, whatever you like)
- 1/4 tsp celery salt (or one stalk celery, sliced thin)
- salt and pepper
- 6 cups vegetable stock (or 6 cups water + 3 veggie bouillon cubes)
- one, 14 oz can diced tomatoes
- 1 cup zucchini, cut into half moons
- 2 cups kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
- thick slices of good bread, such as sourdough
- Make the chili garlic olive oil. Heat the oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add the sliced garlic and pepper flakes and cook about 5 minutes, until garlic is soft and turning golden. Remove from heat and let sit and infuse while you make the soup.
- In a large (minimum 2 qt) pot over medium heat, add 3 tbs of olive oil. When shimmering, add the onion and carrot (and celery, if using). Season with salt and saute about 5 minutes.
- Add the potatoes, herbs, and celery salt (if using). Season again with salt and cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the stock and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the zucchini and kale and cook another 15 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning and keep warm until ready to serve.
- When ready to serve, make the toast. Strain the garlic from the oil and heat oil in skillet over medium high heat. Place toast in the pan and fry until golden and crispy, then flip and cook other side. Ladle soup into bowls and serve with toast.
- The spicy garlic oil recipe here is enough for 4 servings of toast, or 2 large slices. Increase amounts as necessary for each slice of toast.
- Cooked beans can be added to this recipe for protein, and sub in any hard and soft veggies, such as other root veggies, squashes, and greens. This recipe is endlessly adaptable.