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(post, Jean Henrich)
Since making a big pot of Minestrone Soup the other night, I've been ruminating about what it is that draws me to this dish and reflecting on all the versions of it I've tried over the years. From various cooking Web sites & magazines, plus my own small library of cookbooks, I've amassed a hodgepodge of these soup recipes. Some call for white beans, some kidney beans, others lentils. The greens run the gamut from spinach and kale to cabbage and Swiss chard. The liquids can include water, broth, tomato juice or a combination. For pasta, I've used orzo, tiny shells, and mini macaroni. I've experimented with barley minestrones and autumn minestrones with butternut squash. Why the fascination with minestrone soup? I'm a sucker for a one-pot dish with a variety of healthy ingredients that can serve as a meal, and minestrone perfectly fits that bill. I've taken to cooking my own beans on a regular basis instead of relying on canned, and I think it makes a difference. I've become a big fan of greens and love any dish that lets me sneak them in. And the capper: Minestones are very quick and easy to make. But many of my minestrones haven't turned out great - I have a tendency to scrap crucial flavor-imparting ingredients at a whim. The recipe calls for pancetta? I've never bought it; why deal with the extra work just to up the fat content? The result: a great-looking but bland end product. Some minestrones are designed to be made with water; others demand chicken broth. When I don't have the broth on hand and have to substitute water, it's always apparent in the tasting. But I'm learning. And I think this recent version may become a favorite. It calls for adding a Parmesan rind to the soup as it cooks. For me, it added just that little oomph that my minestrone needs. My other favorite is an Autumn Minestrone I found on Epicurious.com that is from the Moosewood Restaurant's collection. It features cannellini beans, kale and winter squash - a combination that can't be beat in my book!