Wednesday, September 9, 2009

So Long, Summer. See Ya Next Year!

Today is the first day back to school in the five boroughs. It's not cold yet, but like every year, the week after Labor Day has that little bit of crispness to the air that just wasn't there the previous week. I was reminded this morning that my feet get cold when I just get out of bed (three seasons of the year, that is). Summer is over, folks. It's always a bittersweet realization. I LOVE summer for summer, plain and simple. It's officially my favorite season. . .but it's gone till 2010. Unofficially, I love fall, too, though, for it's food, sweaters, hot drinks outside, pumpkin carving, the smell in the air, and the feeling of simply getting back to the tasks at hand after a three-month abandonment.

The farmer's market at the height of summer seems like it would be the best, but let us not forget the fall market with the shiny, waxy-skinned winter squashes in every shade of yellow, orange, red, and green, bunches of brown and gold maize wrapped together, potted mums, and bundles of wheat.

The markets in NYC aren't quite there yet, but the rainbow of veggies from the height of summer is winding down. Here is a late summer recipe that is great for chilly evenings and is best when the fresh veggies in the markets are still looking good.

It is an adaptation of one that my friend, Sarah, composed on a coffee table circa 1996 with a can opener, a spoon, and a pot. It has been evolving over the years and changed a little, but it's the same in spirit. The creamy pesto is the bee's knee's! Just wait till you try it!

MINESTRONE with creamy pesto

1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil
2 T butter, (optional but good)
1 1/2 c onion, diced small
1 cup sliced crimini mushrooms
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped into roughly 1"x.25" strips
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped into roughly 1"x.25"strips
1 c celery slices
1 c thin carrot slices
1 c potatoes, diced into roughly 1/2" cubes
1 c zucchini, cut into half-moons
2 T minced garlic
2 T dried oregano
1 T dried basil
1 T sea salt
lots of freshly ground black pepper
2 c chopped Roma tomatoes
6-8 cups vegetable broth or water (or some of each)
about 2 oz/1/2 can tomato paste (freeze the other half)
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes (plain or with Italian herbs, whichever you prefer)
1 15 oz can kidney beans
2 cups dried pasta (fusilli and wagon wheels are my favorites)
1 1/2 c broccoli, cut into small-ish florets
1 1/2 c cauliflower, cut into small-ish florets
2 c green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-1 1/2" pieces
3 T minced fresh oregano
fresh basil for garnish

1 recipe Creamy Pesto (below)

Heat olive oil in a soup pot.

Cook onion, mushrooms, peppers, celery, carrots, pototoes, zucchini, and garlic, about 12-15 minutes, or until veggies begin to soften and brown just a tiny bit. Season with dried oregano, dried basil, sea salt, and black pepper. Add chopped tomatoes and cook about 5 more minutes.

Add broth and simmer until warm. Ladle a cup or so of hot broth into a bowl. Add tomato paste and mix together until paste is dissolved. Add back to soup along with the can of tomatoes (with juice). Simmer about 15 minutes until vegetables are
nice and tender.

Open and drain a can of kidney beans. Rinse with water in a colander and add to the soup.

If you are making this ahead of time, to be served later. Let cool and chill at this point and finish the soup when you reheat. If you are preparing it to eat right away, continue.

With soup simmering, add pasta, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and fresh oregano.

Cook until veggies are tender-crisp and pasta is al dente.

Ladle into serving bowls.
Top each bowl with creamy pesto and a handful of basil.


1/2 cup pine nuts
about 3 cups fresh basil leaves, washed
3 t chopped garlic
about 1/3 c grated parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano cheese
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt
black pepper
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup cream cheese

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Toast pinenuts, uncovered for 7-9 minutes, until just toasted--watch closely!

In a food processor, blend basil, garlic, grated cheese, pine nuts, oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Blend, scrape down sides, and blend again until uniform. Add cream cheese. Continue blending until uniform. Taste for salt, pepper, and lemon.