At this time of year farmers markets abound with appealing spring vegetables: asparagus, spinach, peas, green onions, ramps. If you’re like me you buy all of it, imagining future plant-based meals that will delight family and friends, making them marvel over how you made vegetables taste so good.
But sometimes I get stuck, not in the mood to delve into a new and complicated recipe, and yearning for a bowl of my go-to comfort food: soup! I can eat soup any time of day and in any season, and somehow the world seems a bit brighter when I tuck into a steamy bowl. Just throw what you have into a pot with a little water or broth, some herbs here, a little spice there, and presto! You’ve got yourself a wholesome and hearty meal that didn’t take all day to make.
That’s why I was thrilled to discover this recipe which makes the most of spring vegetables. Minestrone Verde takes the best of a traditional minestrone (pasta and beans) and goes green. The pesto is essential here, lifting and layering the overall flavor of the broth, giving it a gorgeous verdant color, but you can use store-brought pesto if you don’t want to make your own. Feel free to skip the bacon or salt pork but I think the soup misses something without it.
For the soup:
3 thick slices of bacon or salt pork, diced (optional; see variation)
4 to 6 green onions (scallions), sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups water
4 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
1 15 oz. can lima beans, drained, or use fresh or frozen beans (can substitute white beans)
10 stalks asparagus, preferably thin, woody ends removed and discarded, chopped into 1 inch pieces
4 oz. small pasta, such as ditalini, mini farfalle or orzo
2 oz. green peas (fresh or frozen)
Freshly cracked black pepper
Lime wedges (optional)
For the pesto:
1 bunch fresh parsley, dill or basil, leaves and tender stems, or a blend, plus a few extra sprigs for garnish
¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated
¼ cup olive oil, plus more as needed
Make the soup: set a heavy-bottomed pot with a lid over medium heat, and add the bacon or salt pork, if using (see variation). Cook, stirring, until the fat has rendered and the pork is browned and crisp around the edges, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, stir in the green onions and celery, and cook, stirring, until tender and just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook just until it becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds, careful not to burn it.
Add the water, stock and lima beans and cover the pot. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Uncover and add the asparagus and pasta and return the soup to a boil. Cook until the pasta and asparagus are al dente, 5 to 8 minutes. Decrease the heat to low and add the peas and season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep the soup warm until ready to serve.
Make the pesto: in the bowl of a food processor combine the herbs, parmesan and olive oil and process until smooth, adding a bit more olive oil, if needed.
To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top each with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the pesto. Garnish with the reserved herbs and squeeze the lime wedges on top, if desired.
Variation: For a vegetarian version of the soup, in a large casserole dish or another heavy-bottomed pot with a lid over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of oil until it shimmers. Add the green onions, celery and ¼ teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until tender and beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Then, proceed with the rest of the recipe above (to make the soup vegan, omit the cheese from the pesto).
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