I just returned from Tuscany where three groups of friends joined me for a week each. My trips are appropriately called Viaggi Deliziosi, which means Delicious Voyages in Italian.
We pass the week at a beautiful villa south of Florence in the Chianti Classico district of Tuscany. Each day we venture out to explore a nearby village or castle or winery etc and several evening we return to our villa to cook dinner together.
On Sundays we always go to the nearby village of Panzano to explore the weekly market and then we have lunch at Solo Ciccia, master butcher Dario Cecchini’s shrine to meat, where we enjoy a meal of his meaty creations. That evening we always cook Minestrone … a recipe that comes from my cookbook, “Cheese, Glorious Cheese!”. This recipe often wins “Best Recipe of the Week”, so I am happy to share my recipe with you. Earlier this year a friend sent me this photo of her daughter preparing Minestrone soon after her return to San Francisco.
Heat the olive oil in a stockpot, add the onion and celery and sauté until limp. Add the potato and carrots and continue to sauté for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, the water, and the bouillon cubes. Add the bay leaves, herbs of Provence, and black peppercorns. Simmer over low heat for 45 minutes. Add the beans and the zucchini. Continue cooking for 15 to 20 additional minutes, until the zucchini is soft. Remove the bay leaves, add the spinach and parsley, stir well and remove from the heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
For the Croutons, pour the olive oil into a large skillet and place over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the bread cubes and toss to coat with the oil. When the bread begins to turn a very light brown, add the garlic and continue sautéing until the bread is golden brown. Remove the skillet from the heat and sprinkle 1 cup of Grana Padano over the croutons. Stir and toss to coat well. Set aside.
To serve, ladle the soup into large soup bowls and sprinkle the croutons on top. Place the remaining ½ cup of Grana Padano in a small dish to pass separately to sprinkle over the soup.
Note: Grana Padano is very similar in taste and texture to Parmigiano Reggiano. The difference lies in the fact that Grana Padano can be made in various regions, at all times of the year and from the milk of different breeds of dairy cattle while Parmigiano Reggiano can be produced only in a designated geographic region, from the milk of particular cows, and only during determined times of the year. If you can’t find Grana Padano, Parmigiano Reggiano is a good substitute.
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