I always made a point at restaurants to order minestrone soup because I thought it would be too much work to make at home. But, after a trip one day to our farmers market, and a bag full of fresh vegetables later I gained the courage to try it. I didn't have any pancetta at home and I figured that with all my fresh ingredients why not leave it out and make it a vegetarian minestrone instead. The result was the best soup I have ever made, with proof from 3 large empty bowls and an infant quite frustrated with the fact he doesn't have teeth yet. (He must have known it was good from our lack of conversation that night). Minestrone is a soup that dates back centuries, and is basically comprised of vegetables, beans and some sort of pasta or rice. It can be altered to your tastes or preferences quite easily. Below is my version, but feel free to change or add according to your own liking and availability of ingredients.
Minestrone Soup with Barley & Pesto
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 quarts of vegetable stock or Ultrabroth (or chicken stock if you are not a vegetarian)
3-4 sprigs of fresh parsley and thyme bundled together with twine
1 bay leaf
1 (2-inch square) of kombu*
1/4 cup barley **
1/4 pound green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths (about two good handfuls)
1 pound of tomatoes (about 2), peeled, seeded and chopped
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Homemade pesto (Recipe below)
Rinse your beans thoroughly. Soak them overnight in a bowl full of water that is about 2-4 inches above the beans. Or if you didn't plan ahead you can always put them in a pot full of water enough to cover the beans by 2-4 inches and bring it to a boil. Once they start boiling turn off the heat, cover and let them sit for 1 hour.
In a large pot, heat your extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat. Add the chopped onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender (about 5-10 minutes). Add the beans, vegetable stock, parsley/thyme bundle, bay leaf, and kombu.* Bring this all to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Partially cover the pot with a lid and simmer for 30 minutes. At this point if you are using the barley** add it and continue to simmer for 10 more minutes.
Next, add your green beans, tomatoes, and salt. (if you wanted to use a pasta substitute in place of the barley now would be the time to add it). Simmer another 25 to 30 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender. Remove the herb bundle, kombu* and bay leaf.
Serve your soup in bowl topped with a few grinds of fresh pepper, a spoonful of homemade pesto (recipe below) and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
* Kombu is dried kelp. This is added for flavor and to help aid in the digestion of beans. You can find this in Asian grocery stores and some of the bigger health food stores. If you have difficulty finding this then you can omit it from the recipe.
**If you are avoiding gluten in your diet then either omit this from the recipe or add your favorite gluten-free pasta substitute.
In a food processor, puree 1 clove of garlic and 3/4 a cup of lightly packed fresh basil leaves and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. While the processor is running add 1/4 a cup of extra virgin olive oil in a steady stream and continue to puree until well blended. Turn off the processor and add 2 tablespoons of pine nuts and 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese. Process again until the nuts are chopped up just a little and the mixtures is well blended.