Are you enjoying an overabundant summer harvest? Put it in your soup pot!
At the height of summer, I often happily imagine that Mother Nature has gone wild. What else could you think if you walk out into your vegetable garden or through the aisles of the farmers market and see tomatoes, zucchini, summer squashes, kale, chard, sweet corn, peas and other produce at their most beautiful, freshest, and most flavorful -- all just begging to be cooked and eaten.
To be honest, it can sometimes be overwhelming. What to choose? Harvest or purchase too much, and you may be left regretting wonderful ingredients gone to waste. It can seem impossible to cook it all.
But recently, I came across a recipe from a chef on my worldwide culinary team that actually does manage to cook it all, in one big, glorious pot of soup. Vincenzo Scarmiglia, executive chef at Cucina by Wolfgang Puck in Las Vegas, serves guests his version of a traditional Italian recipe he calls Zuppa del Frantoio, which translates as "oil mill soup," referring to the giant presses used to make cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil.
Good, fragrant olive oil plays an important role in this dish, not only for the initial sauteing but more importantly for finishing each serving with a drizzle that releases wonderful aroma and flavor on contact with the hot soup. But the real stars of this soup are the vegetables, 20 twenty in all (that is, if you count two separate sources of tomato along with two different kinds of beans); all simmered together in vegetable broth. No wonder the dish is also called "Twenty Vegetable Soup."
Don't be alarmed by the long list of ingredients. You'll only have to buy one each of most of the vegetables, and you can certainly double up on some to make the soup with fewer varieties. For that matter, feel free to substitute or include other vegetables you like from your garden or the market.
Most of the work involved in preparing the soup goes into simply dicing the vegetables to a uniform size -- 1/4 to 1/2 inch (6 to 12 mm) -- that will cook evenly and quickly. Then, you just add them to the pot in the right order as listed in the recipe, starting with those that take longer to cook and then later adding more tender vegetables. Toward the end, you add the quick-cooking leaves, chopped cauliflower and the canned beans. (A quick note: Half of the canned beans are pureed to give thick, velvety body to the soup's broth).
It's a luxurious bowlful that may remind you of the best minestrone you've ever had, apart from the fact that there's no pasta included. Serve it with lots of crusty Italian bread, and you have a delicious first course that's so satisfying you may need nothing else to follow.
ZUPPA DEL FRANTOIO
1/2 cup (125 mL) drained canned white beans