By Nancy Wiechec | Catholic News Service
After not having household gatherings for some time, we are very excited to host family and friends for Christmas celebrations once again. The anticipation of having a table of chatter and laughter brings joy to the heart. But there’s also worry, as preparations can dish out a lot of stress.
It’s around Christmastime that the story of Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary comes to mind. Remember Jesus’ rebuke of Martha as she is absorbed in serving her guest?
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only thing. Mary has chosen the better part” (Luke 10:41-42).
Oh, to be a Mary, to simply sit back and engage with our company. It’s not so simple for those who are the host or hostess. We want to be sure everything is perfect and all are enjoying themselves.
To bring out the attentive Mary this Christmas season, try this simple one-pot, made-in-advance meal. This hearty winter minestrone packs goodness and flavor. A vibrant parsley oil adds a special flourish. It’s easy and costs little time and money to make.
This recipe will feed a large family and a few guests and provide time to mingle with and appreciate those you love.
Minestrone is fitting for a peaceful Christmas Eve, a meal following midnight Mass or a late supper on Christmas Day. Make the soup a day or two ahead, leaving out the kale and pasta. Cover and refrigerate the minestrone and parsley oil, separately.
About 30 minutes before you’re ready to serve, remove the soup and parsley oil from the fridge. Reheat the minestrone to a simmer and then add the kale and pasta as the recipe directs. Give the parsley oil a good whisk, as it may separate a bit in the fridge.
For gluten-free minestrone, omit the pasta and substitute 1 cup of cooked short-grain rice. Omit the sausage for a vegetarian meal.
A note about parmesan rinds: Our household uses Parmigiano-Reggiano for pasta and other dishes throughout the year. The golden outer shell of the cheese is too tough to grate and not of much use. We save them in a plastic bag in the fridge and add them to soup, pasta sauce or cooked grains.
The rinds release a burst of umami flavor. Rinds usually melt away during cooking, but if they don’t, simply remove what is left along with the bay leaf before serving. If you don’t have rinds to include, your minestrone will still be delectable.
WINTER MINESTRONE WITH ITALIAN PARSLEY OIL
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
1 pound bulk Italian sausage (mild or hot variety)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large carrots, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
8 cups vegetable broth
3 cans (15 ounces each) cannellini or Roman beans, drained and rinsed
1 large can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes with juice
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
2-3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds (optional)
8 Tuscan kale or Swiss chard leaves, spines removed and chopped
1 cup small-shaped dried pasta
Italian parsley oil:
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, washed and patted dry
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
In large, heavy pot or Dutch oven, cook sausage over medium-high heat, breaking it into bits with a spoon, until the meat is brown. With a slotted spoon, remove the sausage and set aside. Carefully drain all but a tablespoon of grease from the pot.
Add the olive oil, carrots, celery and onion to the same pot and cook over medium heat until onions are soft. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook while stirring for another minute or two.
Add the beef broth, beans, tomatoes, bay leaf, oregano, thyme, chili flakes, parmesan rinds (if using) and the sausage. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 30 minutes.
While the soup cooks, prepare the parsley oil. Cutaway thick stems from the parsley. In a mini food processor or blender, add the parsley, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper flakes and olive oil and whirl until all the ingredients are well incorporated. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
Uncover the minestrone and stir in the kale and the pasta, simmer for 8 minutes until pasta is al dente. Remove from heat.
Ladle minestrone into individual bowls and garnish with a teaspoon of parsley oil. Serve with a crusty baguette or rustic-style bread.