So let's say you made the beans. Here's what you're going to do with them.
Behold my little tweak on Romney Steele's minestrone recipe. From her breathtaking new book My Nepenthe (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2009), this recipe has everything I love in a soup: hearty, filling protein from the beans, vibrant color from the vegetables, and cute little shapes of tender pasta. If it weren't so hot in the soup pot, I might dive in and swim around.
Remember a few months ago when I wrote a post called Thread? About how you never know which professional opportunities will pay off, so you should pretty much say yes to every invitation? Well, someone should beat me with a rutabaga because I recently ignored my own advice.
I'd met Romney (aka "Nani") at the BlogHer Food conference for about a minute and a half. I don't think we did much more than smile and shake hands, and when I heard she'd just written a book called My Nepenthe my eyes glazed over. I'd heard of My Antonia, but My Nepenthe might as well have been called My Refrigerator Magnet for all the interest it piqued in me. I had no idea what it meant, so I flitted on.
Bad move #1.
It turns out that people in the Bay Area do know what Nepenthe means. It refers to a Big Sur restaurant on the California coast that sports breathtaking views, has a rich and illustrious 60 year history, and has served as the cultural gathering place for artists, writers, dancers, and bohemians of all stripes.
Nani's grandparents, who built the restaurant, originally bought the land from Rita Hayworth.
Orson Welles had bought it for Rita. You see where I'm going?
I did not know this.
So right after BlogHer Food when my friend Sarah invited me to Nani's book release party, at Nepenthe, I think I said something eloquent like, "Sorry, I can't because of [blah and blah and blah.]" After all, why go to a book launch for a woman I'd hardly met at a place I'd never heard of?
Bad move #2.
A few weeks later, after I dissed the launch, I got the book. (Thanks to Dianne for encouraging me to get a copy.)
My Nepenthe is stunning, unique, and absolutely captivating. Not just the lovely writing about Nani's grandparents and large, extended family, not just the rich history of this unusual locale. The physical pages of this book leap to life with the most glorious splashes of color and texture. In addition to being a writer and cook, Nani is a food stylist, and her aesthetic completely drew me in. The photographs capture the bohemian lifestyle, with beatific looking women with long hair and flowing skirts; architectural details like heavy-hinged wooden doors and rustic cobblestone walls; and children playing together, then and now. It's a portrait of a real family over time, in a place of glorious natural beauty.
(Click here to see sample pages from the book.)
It's not that I want to be a part of Nani's family; it's far too late for that. But since I got the book I've wanted nothing more than to jump in my car and hightail it down to Nepenthe.
I so completely blew my opportunity that first time around.
I completely blew it.
Recipe for Vegetable-Packed Minestrone
Adapted from My Nepenthe by Romney Steele (Andrews McMeel, 2009)
I made a few tweaks to Nani's original Day at the Beach Minestrone recipe, subbing yellow eye beans for the cannellinis, a Japanese sweet potato for the regular potato, green beans for the zucchini, and a whole bunch of lacinato kale for the chard.
Keep in mind that minestrone is endlessly versatile. Use whatever vegetables you like, whatever variety of dried or canned beans you have on hand, and your favorite style of little pasta.
1 cup small white beans, yellow eye beans, or other beans of your choice, or, alternately, one 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 sprigs thyme, stemmed
1 Japanese sweet potato, or potato of your choice, peeled and diced
2 plum tomatoes, OR half a 14.5 ounce can whole plum tomatoes with some juice, OR 10 ounces garlicky-roasted summer tomatoes if you have any in your freezer
One 32-ounce carton vegetable stock
3 cups cold water, divided
4 ounces green beans, halved on the diagonal
1/2 cup dried small pasta (shells, little bow ties, orzo)
Handful of lacinato (also called "dinosaur") kale, stems and thick ribs discarded, leaves sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Crushed red pepper, shredded Parmesan cheese, and/or olive oil, for serving
If using dried beans, soak overnight in cold water. Drain, rinse, and fill pot with beans. Cover with cold water by 2 inches, and bring to a boil. Lower heat slightly and boil beans gently until tender. (This will take between 25 minutes and an hour, depending on what type of beans you use and how fresh they are.) Drain and rinse. Set aside.
In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add celery, carrots, garlic, and thyme, and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Stir in the sweet (or regular) potato, tomatoes (break them up if whole), vegetable broth, and water.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer gently for about 25 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender but not mushy. Add the green beans, dried pasta, reserved cooked (or canned) beans, kale, and an additional cup of water, if necessary. Simmer until pasta and vegetables are tender and greens are wilted, about 10 to 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with Parmesan cheese and additional olive oil, if desired. Pass crushed red pepper alongside.