We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens — or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn’t much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn’t lavish. But it’s what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.)
Since then, I’ve been more inspired to cook lots of “real” food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen’s curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I’ve taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread). After our knock-em-dead New Years Eve, we had plans to go to The Wandering Goose for Southern breakfast + resolution writing, a tradition we’ve kept for years. But when we woke up to a light dusting of snow, neither of us really felt like dealing with a very busy (now) toddler in a very small restaurant — nor were we quite ready to think about goals or resolutions. There was still wrapping paper to clean up and mail to open, and frankly I wanted space and time to really think through mine before sharing them this year. I remember sitting at our table last year with a six week old baby strapped to me, lightly bouncing and, with each bite of breakfast, trying not to drop black eyed peas on his head. There was a bit of a wait for our food, so we ended up sharing a piece of caramel cake and coffee first, and I proceeded to lie my way through each of my goals. And I 100% knew it at the time, too. Was I going to learn how to sew clothes for myself? Yes. Would I get better at baking bread? Absolutely. Write a new book proposal? You betcha. I remember thinking to myself that the entire exercise felt futile and what I really was going to do that year was keep this sleeping baby alive and healthy. And I did. We did. And he’s a little walking, babbling ray of sunshine that loves kiwis and bananas and biscuits and taking showers with his papa. And this year, I’m ready to start thinking about new personal and professional projects that have more to do with me — to make lists that feel genuine and exciting, not just words on paper.
This soup has turned out to be good fuel for that sort of thing — for writing thank you notes and starting the new planner my sister Zoe got me for Christmas. I saw the recipe in Bon Appetit a while back and when I recently dug it out, I discovered it was a spring minestrone with sugar snap peas and fresh peas, so obviously my version is a seasonal departure. I ended up using frozen peas and fresh zucchini instead and it feels like exactly what I want and need to be eating right now: clean, simple, and all about the ingredients themselves. Nothing over the top, festive or fancy. Just a good, wintry soup. And a clean desk to start thinking about those truthful resolutions I’m almost ready to write. Happy New Year, friends.
This soup has a few components that can be tackled separately and in advance: the soffrito works as the base and you’ll have quite a bit leftover that you can then freeze and use for soups in the future. As for the pesto, I didn’t have pistachios as the original recipe called for so I used hazelnuts instead. Like most pesto recipes, I treat it as a formula more than anything so use any nuts and greens you like here; it’ll turn out great.
Adapted from Bon Appetit
For Soup / Assembly:
To make the soffrito: Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Cook onions, leeks and celery, stirring often, until soft but not browned, about 6-8 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt.
To make the pesto: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Toast nuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until golden brown, 6-8 minutes. Let cool; crush using a small sauce pan (you want a mix of sizes).
Pulse garlic, basil, parsley and 1/3 cup oil in a food processor until a coarse puree forms. Transfer to a medium bowl and mix with Parmesan, lemon zest, crushed nuts, and remaining 1/3 cup oil; season with salt and pepper.
Soup and assembly: Heat oil in a medium pot over medium-high. Add the thyme and zucchini and cook until tender, about 6 -7 minutes. Add bay leaf and 1 cup soffrito and cook down until fragrant, about 2 minutes (Reserve remaining soffrito for another use; see note below).
Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add peas, kale, beans and cook until kale is wilted and peas are tender, about 3 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, as needed. Remove and discard bay leaf.
Serve soup, topped with pesto, Parmesan and red pepper flakes.
Note on Soffrito: The base can be made 3 days ahead. Let cool, cover and refrigerate (or freeze for up to 1 month).
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.