Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. I woke up this morning with minestrone on my mind. "Must make hearty soup before the electricity goes out."
Since my Connecticut childhood, I've always been at least a half a continent away from East Coast hurricane activity. But this year the timing of my October New York trip is unlucky. (And when has there ever been a hurricane like this at the end of October?)
The subways shut down yesterday at 7 p.m., 24 hours before Hurricane Sandy's anticipated storm surge. Supermarkets and corner bodegas were packed all weekend, the sidewalks clogged with people carting home cases of water. My mother's nurse went to buy supplies at the Fairway on the Upper West Side on Sunday morning and she said the shelves were already stripped of bottled water and canned goods.
I'm safe on high ground in Chelsea, in my sister's fourth floor walk-up. Yesterday she felt pretty confident about the amount of food she had on hand, but by last night, anticipating a few days of both of us being housebound, possibly with no electricity, she reconsidered. That's why I woke up with soup on my mind.
Bare store shelves
I was at Gristedes before 9 a.m., and it was not packed. The crowds had already come and gone, and just about every basket in the produce section was bare. I grabbed a couple of leeks and a cabbage. Phew! I always feel confident when I have a cabbage in my kitchen because there's so much you can do with this humble, under-appreciated vegetable.
But where were the onions? "No onions?" I asked the produce guy.
"No, just that little red one, and that's only there because I went downstairs to look for onions for another customer," he said.
I grabbed it and the two remaining carrots in the bin, some garlic and some canned tomatoes. I didn't bother with the droopy parsley because what I didn't use would only rot in my sis' half-size fridge.
I snatched up a bag of lentils - dried beans were much more plentiful than canned - and some rice, a hunk of Parmesan with a nice looking rind for my bouquet garni, and headed home to cook.
Lentil and Cabbage Minestrone
Makes 6 servings
A comforting soup for a storm.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small to medium yellow or red onion, chopped
1 large or 2 medium carrots, cut in ½-inch dice
Salt to taste
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved and cleaned, sliced thin
3 to 4 large garlic cloves, minced
½ medium cabbage, cored and shredded
1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, with juice
½ teaspoon dried thyme (1 teaspoon fresh leaves, or more to taste)
½ pound lentils (about 1⅛ cups), picked over and rinsed
2 quarts water
1 Parmesan rind
A few sprigs each parsley and thyme, if available
1 bay leaf
2 cups cooked rice (white or brown)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)
Freshly grated Parmesan for serving
1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, and add the onion and carrot. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are just about tender, about 5 minutes, and add the leeks. Cook, stirring, until the leeks are slightly wilted, about 3 minutes, and stir in the garlic and cabbage, along with another generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, just until the garlic smells fragrant and the cabbage has begun to wilt, about 3 minutes, and stir in the tomatoes with their juice, the thyme, and salt to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down somewhat and smell fragrant. Stir in the lentils and water and bring to a boil.
2. Meanwhile tie the Parmesan rind, parsley and thyme sprigs and the bay leaf together with kitchen twine, or tie in a piece of cheesecloth. Add to the soup. Reduce the heat to low, season to taste with salt, about 2 teaspoons to begin with (you will probably add more), cover and simmer 1 hour, until the lentils are tender and the broth fragrant. Remove the bouquet garni.
3. Add pepper to the soup and stir in rice, or just add rice to each bowl when you serve the soup. Taste. Is there enough salt? Garlic? Adjust seasonings. Stir in the parsley. Serve, topping each bowlful with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
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