I love cookbooks, especially old ones, because they offer glimpses into not only the history of recipes, but also, the people who sat around the tables who enjoyed that food.
Many years ago I received as a gift “The Essential New York Times Cook Book” by Amanda Hesser. This big, red, beast of a book is full of recipes published in the NYT over its 150-year history. It’s a food archive loaded with dishes submitted by readers, professional chefs and food writers. The compilation hints about what was going on at the time they were submitted — wars, the Depression, spices introduced by traveling writers, immigrant dishes, introduction to ‘convenience foods,’ improvements in food safety, French influences, new cooking utensils, vegetarian trends, the birth of the casserole, invention of the microwave, and more.
Among her many accomplishments, the author is, most notably, the former food editor of the NYT Magazine. In 2004 she started the monumental task of reviewing recipes in the archive dating back to the 1850s, getting input from readers about their favorites (including some that even saved marriages), and cooking/testing/updating an eclectic mix of about 1,400 of them. Pretty impressive.
I pulled out the book this week, intent on finding a yummy soup. I found “Garden Minestrone,” originally published in the NYT on September 23, 1973 by chef Nika Hazelton. I did some digging and learned she was born in Rome but traveled the globe, where she gained lots of culinary skills, so when she landed in the U.S. in 1940 she was recognized as an ‘expert’ on cooking across many cultures. She promoted simple ingredients, was described as having a no-nonsense style and, among her many cookbook and writing accomplishments, was a regular contributor to the NYT. In this particular article, she wrote: “. . .Italians have a number of hearty vegetable stews in their cooking heritage that are good main dishes — especially when meat and poultry prices are out of sight. . .stews are easy to cook since they are all more-or-less dishes, meaning it doesn’t really matter if the cook uses a little less of this or more of that vegetable. For a complete meal, add bread and cheese, a salad, some wine. Dessert if you must.” I love the last line.
I’ve never made a soup like this. It’s called a ‘constructed soup,’ one that requires you to follow specific directions in order for it to work. But it all happens in one pot, takes about 30 minutes, uses a lot of veggies, is EASY and, if you’re on a diet, doesn’t have many calories. Win!
Here’s what it looks like after layering everything in the pot, before covering:
Here’s what it looks like after the first 10 minutes of cooking:
This soup works because the selected veggies hold a lot of moisture. When slow-simmered in a covered pot, they release those juices, making a simple, flavorful broth. By cooking it like this, you can taste each ingredient in each spoonful.
P.S. I definitely advocate using lots of grated parmesan cheese. No, it won’t save you calories, but it’s a wonderful addition to this simple soup 🙂
- 2 large ripe tomatoes peeled & sliced
- 2 medium onions thinly sliced
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 2 large zucchini sliced
- 1 head Romaine lettuce shredded
- 1 10-oz package frozen petite peas
- 2 Tb. minced fresh basil
- 1 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
- 1 10-oz package frozen lima beans
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (use more if desired)
- Put sliced tomatoes in the bottom of a deep, large casserole (soup pot). Top with onion slices and garlic. Top with zucchini slices, then shredded lettuce, then peas. Sprinkle the basil. Sprinkle half the parsley, then the lima beans. Sprinkle remaining parsley on top, then pour olive oil over the entire mixture. DO NOT CHANGE THE ORDER OF THE VEGGIES! DO NOT MIX!
- Cover the pot and cook over medium heat 10 minutes (so vegetables on the bottom start to release their liquids).
- Uncover, season with salt and pepper and stir with a large spoon until well-mixed.
- Return cover to the pot, reduce heat to low, then stir every few minutes for the next 15-20 minutes. DON’T ADD ANY ADDITIONAL LIQUID!
- Turn off heat, then stir about 1/4 cup of the grated cheese into the soup. Taste for seasoning. Top each serving with more of the grated cheese. Serve hot or lukewarm.