It just so happened that my furnace blew out Sunday evening during the coldest night of the season, when the temperature dropped to -31C with the wind chill.
After a weekend of frustrations and heartbreak, I sat on the couch and felt the air grow slowly cooler. I could feel my apartment floors through my leopard-print slippers. This city's not used to this insane weather, I thought. I grabbed another blanket. But when I peeled back my duvet Monday morning, there was no mistaking it, that startling, skin-blazing chill.
I phoned my landlord immediately, but the city was in trouble. People were having heating issues all over. After experiencing a near-asthma attack while walking to the AGO the day prior, I hailed a cab to work. I sat at my cubicle wearing my thickest pair of tights beneath my lined wool pants, two t-shirts and one of my heaviest sweaters.
With my furnace repairs delayed, I considered my options. Calling up a friend, packing up my things and crashing somewhere else for a couple nights. Buying a space heater. Burying myself beneath my blankets until conditions improved.
I thought about the old days, jacked my oven to 450F and opened the door. Within two hours, my apartment was reasonably comfortable. Take that, furnace -- name the game and I'll play it.
This was a hard weekend for many people. A pregnant friend of mine was butchering chickens with her mother when she spotted blood. She has been trying for a good long while to have a baby, and grew immediately devastated at the thought of losing this one. Fortunately she and the baby are both okay, but another friend of mine was not so lucky. Another friend of mine lost her cat. And, apart from thinking we grow increasingly complicated and complex as we grow older -- thank goodness -- I thought, my girlfriends are my superheroes. I'm fussing about my heat and others are mourning a future, gone. And also this: here we are, a collective of young women who butcher chickens, make sausages from scratch, knit clothing, sing, play instruments, develop public policies, revise national marketing materials, plan elaborate trips, move to different cities on a whim, take chances, go back to school for the third time, open businesses, and forge ahead into the great, clichéd unknown, entirely unarmed.
As Dana Velden put so eloquently this week, "You're human and you're built for this."
And so I made a giant pot of minestrone soup -- not a soup that requires several fancy ingredients, but one that insists on pantry staples. One easy to throw together at a moment's notice. No zucchini? Toss in a cup of green beans. Don't like zucchini? Use cabbage instead. It's a good soup, an easily adaptable soup, one that pleases the palate and warms the belly. Good comfort food. If I were anywhere near any of these women, I'd try to warm their spirits with a pot of this. It reminds us that while star-studded ingredients like quinoa flour and good-quality dark chocolate and amazing coffee and artisanal goat's cheese are all well and good, the bare-boned basics, when treated well, when savoured, can really shine, and are perhaps the most comforting thing available in moments of quiet desperation and sorrow.
I know what you're thinking: a bowl of beans and vegetables. Well, yes. I know it doesn't look like much -- photographing soup takes talent I just don't have -- but trust me on this. The pesto in this recipe makes for a truly superb broth. I froze half this soup, but I don't think it'll stay there for long.
Yields 8 - 10 servings
Notes: There are a number of recipes for Minestrone. However, there are a few things I wouldn't skip on. For one, good-quality stock is, to my mind, essential; I like homemade chicken best, but any good poultry stock will do. I would hesitate to prescribe vegetable stock, because I find most far too sour-tasting. I've ruined many a pot of soup with vegetable stock. However, to each his or her own -- if you like vegetable stock, then by all means use it.
Secondly, I substituted the pasta with uncooked quinoa to up the protein and nutrients in this recipe.
Third, I think every soup needs a bright ingredient. In this instance, I've used red wine vinegar, but you can easily substitute lemon juice if you haven't red wine vinegar on hand. This recipe also calls for diced tomatoes; if you don't care for chunks of tomato in your soup, feel free to puree them or adding tomato sauce instead.
Fourth, while I love the taste of sundried tomato pesto here, I know this isn't available to everyone. Classico makes a jarred version available at most grocery store, or try experimenting. You could add pancetta or bacon to this recipe. Try adding in green beans, cabbage and/or spinach in place of the zucchini. Use whatever's on hand or looks good at the store.
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, very finely diced or grated (roughly 1 cup)
4-5 carrots, peeled and chopped (about 2.5 cups)
1 zucchini, chopped (about 1 cup)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2lbs potatoes (3-4), peeled and diced
1 quart good-quality, low-sodium poultry stock, preferably homemade (see notes)
2 - 14oz cans diced tomatoes with juices
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp dried oregano
3 tbsp dried parsley, or 1.5 tbsp fresh
2 - 16oz cans of beans (I used kidney), about 3 cups cooked, rinsed
1/3 cup uncooked quinoa
2 heaping tbsp sundried tomato pesto
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Sea salt and pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for sprinkling
1. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Once the butter is melted and the pan feels warm, add the onions. Toss to coat, and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Cook until onions soften, about five minutes.
2. Add carrots and continue to cook until slightly tender, about ten minutes more, adding additional oil as necessary.
3. Toss in the garlic and combine with carrots and onions. Once fragrant, about one minute, add tomato paste and stir to combine.
4. Add in potatoes, chicken stock, canned tomatoes, beans, zucchini, quinoa, and pesto. You may have to add the second can of beans once the soup has reduced slightly (I had to.) Salt gently again and add 1/8 tsp of cracked black pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a strong simmer.
5. Cook until the potatoes are tender, the broth thickens and the quinoa is fully cooked, about 20-30 minutes. Take the soup off the heat and add in the red wine vinegar. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
6. Serve in bowls garnished with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.