This delicious soup comes to us from Rao’s Cookbook. Rao’s is the legendary Italian restaurant in East Harlem New York. For more than 100 years they have been serving truly home style cooking in the tiny corner establishment. It’s history is long and varied, colorfully reviewed in this wonderful book. Rao’s is all but impossible to get into, every table is ‘assigned’ to long-term patrons every night. You have to know someone to dine there. The hallmarks of the classic cuisine are the very best ingredients perfectly prepared without any artifice. They make everything from scratch every day, and always have. Some of our favorites are this soup, the Tomato and Red Onion Salad, Lemon Chicken, Osso Buco, and Spaghetti ala Puttanesca to name a very few. I heartily recommend the book, it discusses both the specific recipes and the style of cooking along with some basic techniques and a wonderful smattering of Rao’s lore. Well worth it. They recently opened a place here in Los Angeles, I haven’t had a chance to check it out. When I do, I will certainly let you know about it.
This soup is a comforting blend of vegetables and legumes perfect for the cool nights of winter. It takes a bit of chopping and dicing ahead of time, but it is well worth it. I usually prepare the vegetables before I start cooking . . .
. . . once you get it going, there isn’t much time for prep. The assembly takes about 20 minutes, the soup simmers for an hour or so and produces an authentic Minestrone full of flavor and history. It is naturally gluten-free and vegan, and you probably could live forever just eating this soup. I have a tendency to over-do it sometimes, adding more veggies than called for, more tomatoes, more water, and end up with a huge pot of soup. This time, I followed the quantities exactly, (a rarity here at Hot Eddie’s), with a couple of adaptations to make it my own. Use ‘boiling’ potatoes, do not use Russet or Yukon Gold ‘baking’ potatoes. They will fall apart and dissolve into the soup. I use Weiser’s Farms lovely Russian potatoes from the Mar Vista farmer’s market. They are sweet and hold their shape perfectly. You can use red or white potatoes, they will work just fine. I leave the peels on. Use the very best plum tomatoes you can get – San Marzano if you can find them. The secret to using canned tomatoes is to remove the hard cores and crush them with your hands. It is a little messy but very satisfying. Fresh fava beans are sometimes difficult to find, look in Middle Eastern or Kosher markets. Be sure to remove the tough outer skin of the beans once they are out of the pod. I tried to substitute dried cooked beans once, but it wasn’t too successful. If you can’t find fresh, just omit them. It will still be delicious.
The ‘secret’ to this soup is the freshness and quality of the ingredients.There is no mystery about it. Simmer up a pot and taste 100 years of tradition without having to travel to New York.
Rao’s Minestrone – Prep time 25 minutes. Cook time 1 ½ hours. Serves 6-8
⅓ cup Fine-quality Olive Oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped leeks
¼ cup minced Italian parsley
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
2 cups diced potatoes
2 cups diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced zucchini
1 cup fresh fava beans
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
2 cups canned San Marzano italian plum tomatoes with juice
1 Tablespoon double concentrated tomato paste (in the tube) dissolved in ¼ cup warm water.
4 cups water
salt and pepper to taste
1 to 2 cups cooked cannellini or kidney beans (you can use canned, drained and rinsed)
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano Chese (optional)
Heat oil in a large 6-8 quart stock pot over medium-high heat. When hot, stir in the onions, leeks, parsley and thyme. Lower heat to medium and sauté for about 5 minutes or until the onions clear and begin to brown.
Add the potatoes, carrots, celery, zucchini and fava beans one at a time, sautéing each for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
When all the vegetables are sautéed, add the tomatoes, tomato paste, water, salt and pepper.
Bring to the boil. Lower heat and simmer, partially covered for one hour, stirring occasionally. The soup will be quite thick. Not thick so much as mostly vegetables with a little broth holding it together.
Add the cannellini beans and the peas, mashing some of the beans against the side of the pot with the back of a wooden spoon.
Simmer for 5 minutes more. Remove from heat, correct seasoning, and stir in the chopped basil.
Serve with the optional Romano cheese, or not. (It won’t be vegan if you do.) You can boil up some of your favorite shape pasta, elbows or bow ties, and add some to the soup for a little carb boost if you like, but it won’t be gluten-free. (There, we got the disclaimers out of the way.) It’s your call. It is superb just the way it is.
Any left over will keep perfectly in the fridge for a couple of days. It freezes okay, but it is at its very best fresh from the pot. Enjoy