Cookbooks, food magazines, and many, many food blogs are a constant source of inspiration for me, but lately I’ve been cooking a lot from my own archives. I love to tweak my own recipes, to make them new and different: sometimes they turn out even better than before. I imagine I will be doing more and more of this in the near future since I am currently working on a cookbook proposal. There: I said it. I am working on a cookbook proposal!
This Minestrone with Fennel and Watercress is adapted from this one, which won food52′s “best minestrone” honors last year. I’ve gotten many compliments on the soup from food52 readers in the months since, and it’s one of my family’s favorite meals, as well.
The version you see here is not at all better than the other, just different. It’s made without the bacon or chicken stock, so it’s completely vegetarian. I added fennel and cooked it with a chunk of Parmesan rind to give it a different sort of rich flavor (an idea I borrowed from this recipe; feel free to leave out for a vegan soup), then finished it with nutritious raw watercress and parsley. The assertive flavor of the greens is muted a bit in the very hot soup, but it’s easy enough to leave them out if serving children or others who might not be a fan. You can also feel free to use different greens- like shredded lacinato kale or collards- in the soup.
If you are not vegetarian, you could add some chopped pancetta when you add the onion and swap in chicken stock for the vegetable. When I made this for my kids, I cooked a package of cheese tortellini into the soup during the last few minutes of cooking (just like I did with the original version) and served the kids their bowls without the greens: I picked around the tortellini, but added plenty of the watercress and parsley to mine. If you want to keep it gluten-free but like the idea of adding noodles, rice pasta would work well.
Vegetarian Minestrone with Fennel and Watercress
*use organic ingredients whenever possible; please peel your vegetables if not organic
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
* 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
* 2-3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
* 3 small/1 large Yukon gold potato, chopped
* 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, peeled and chopped
* 4 cups vegetable stock, preferably homemade, plus 1-2 cups more, if needed (or use water)
* one 15 oz. can of cooked chickpeas, drained
* one 28 oz. can of peeled San Marzano tomatoes, with juice
* chunk of Parmesan cheese rind, if you have it - optional
* sea salt, if necessary
* fresh ground black pepper
* 1 bunch watercress, cleaned well and chopped fine, mixed with 1 cup of minced parsley
* grated parmesan cheese for garnish- optional
1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, until they start to soften and brown a bit.
2. Add the chopped carrot, potato and fennel and stir around for a minute or two.
3. Add the stock, the chickpeas, and then the tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon as you go. Add the Parmesan rind. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, add 1-2 cups more liquid if necessary, and cook for 30-40 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender. Allow to cool a bit and taste the broth. Add salt, if needed, and pepper.
4. Take a handful of the greens and place in serving bowl. Pour the hot soup over the greens and garnish with a generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.