You know that feeling when something in the kitchen smells so good and you just breath it in and you begin to drool? That’s what I call aroma therapy!
Pulling the natural aroma and flavor out of vegetables takes a bit of coaxing and love. You want to create depth by layering flavors. And as usual, nature tells us how to do it. Have a look at my “vegetable tree”. Seeing vegetables in this way gives a visual of what order vegetables prefer to be added to a dish to bring out their best.
At the base of the tree are “root vegetables” or vegetables that grow underground and include carrots, onions, parsley, leeks, garlic, celery root (celeriac) and more. They are sweet in nature, caramelize well and are known as “aromatic vegetables” or “aromatics”. Most, if not all, traditional cuisines have a combination of aromatic vegetables that begin every soup, stew or sauce. The French use a “mirepoix”, a mixture of onion, carrot and celery. In Germany a “suppengrün” of celeriac, carrot and leek is used. Cajun cuisine has the “Holy Trinity” a mixture of onion, celery and green bell pepper. Asian cuisines add turmeric root, ginger and lemongrass. Italian soffritto is often made with bits of leftover prosciutto or pancetta.
Here’s how I do the coaxing~
Following your recipe, start with the aromatics and sauté them gently to allow moisture to evaporate and condense the flavor. Add bay leaves, *hearty herbs and peppercorns here. You can put a lid on the pan for the first 4 or 5 minutes to sweat the vegetables. Remove the lid and continue to cook, stirring until the vegetables are tender.
Next add low-to-the-ground vegetables like celery, hearty cabbage, cauliflower and so on. At this point, I don’t add a lid as it can discolor some vegetables. Cook until the color is vibrant but the vegetables are still crisp tender. Season as you go to layer and bring out flavors using salt and spices. Add broth, sauces, or splash of white wine.
Now, add leafy vegetables: kale, chard, Napa cabbage and bitter greens like radicchio. Once the vegetables are cooked perfectly and the flavoring is perfect too, turn off the heat and add minced *tender herbs for a splash of brightness in the dish.
Voila, you’ve got a lovely meal that is full of depth, flavor and color. Bon Appétit!
- *Hearty herbs are herbs that need to be cooked: sage, thyme, marjoram, oregano
- *Tender herbs are herbs that are tasty raw: cilantro, parsley, dill, mint, chives
Using the methods above, apply the techniques to Italian Minestrone, a simple a soup with equal proportions of vegetables and broth. In Italy, Minestrone changes from region to region and season to season. This recipe is a guide. Use what you have and what you like.
Spring & Summer:
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 oz. pancetta scraps, minced
- 4 to 8 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed or chopped
- 3 medium leeks (white and light green part), sliced thinly
- 4 large carrots, peeled and sliced or diced
- 1 cup celery root or celery, diced or sliced
- 4 medium new potatoes, large dice
- 1/2 pound green beans in 1-inch pieces
- 1 piece of parmesan cheese rind
- 1 - 15 oz. can Italian plum tomatoes and juice, crushed by hand
- Chicken broth or water
- 3 cups savoy cabbage or swiss chard, chiffonade (cut like thin ribbons)
- 2 small zucchini, large dice
- 2 cups pre-cooked white beans
- 1/2 cup dry pasta (use odds and ends of pasta from your pantry)
- Good olive oil
- Minced parsley
- Crostini & grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed stock pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Sauté pancetta and garlic until fragrant. Stir in the carrots and celery root and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the leeks and sweat the aromatic vegetables with the lid on until they are translucent. Season lightly.
Add potatoes, green beans, parmesan rind and tomatoes with their juice. Add chicken stock or water just to cover the vegetables. Simmer 30 minutes or until veggies are tender. Skim any impurities that rise to the surface.
Add the cabbage, zucchini, beans and pasta if using. Simmer for 15 minutes or to taste. Turn off the heat and let rest for 5 minutes. Ladle into bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Top with bread, cheese and minced parsley.
In Winter replace summer vegetables with:
- 1 lb. winter squash like butternut
- 2-3 parsnips
- Use kale instead of swiss chard or cabbage
For a thicker soup, remove two cups of soup with veggies and purée in a blender. Add the mixture back into soup.