Summer Garden Soup With Celery Leaf Pesto

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For those of you who follow my blog regularly, or get my weekly newsletters, you will know that we had an extremely cool and rainy spring here in Umbria. It was so unusual and miserable in fact, that I actually stated that if the weather improved and we finally were fortunate enough to have sun and warmer temperatures that I PROMISED I would not complain about the summer heat this year. I’d like to take that back if I could please! Really, it has been hot, hot, hot, here in Umbria recently, and our lovely lawn has gone from glorious green and lush to ugly Umbrian brown, and in fact has even stopped growing.

I don’t function well when the thermostat rises above 100 degrees F. as farmhouses do not come with air conditioning. I still have a daily list of chores I need to tackle however, and though I manage to keep up, I am exhausted every evening. With temperatures over 100 degrees F every day, it is honestly extremely hard to get motivated to cook or bake anything at all and when I do attempt to do so, I feel myself melting into the floor. The heat also takes away my appetite which isn’t all bad as I could lose a few pounds, but since I do try and eat healthy, I know I must consume something. I also doubt that my husband would be too happy if I said I was too hot to prepare meals on a regular basis. He is a good sport though, and is game to take me out to eat whenever I am too hot to cook!

When days are this hot, it is best to prepare meals in the early morning or at night, and soups and salads are mainstays in our weekly menu recently. I do cook pasta often as well, but choose quick and light pasta dishes that use fresh summer vegetables, and ones that can be prepared in under 30 minutes. You may think it odd that I include soups in my choices for really hot days, but I learned to appreciate a great summer minestrone when I lived in Milan over 20 years ago. Many restaurants prepared their soups in the morning using fresh seasonal vegetables, often including pasta, rice, or bread, and then let them sit until evening. The soups were served at room temperature with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, perhaps a sprinkle of grated Parmesan, maybe a drizzle of pesto, or some cracked black pepper. Since I first tasted these amazing summer soups many years ago, I too have prepared soups even during the warmest days of summer. I usually fill my stock pot with vegetables, cover it with water, then let it simmer away.

I made this particular soup earlier this week using zucchini, celery, and tomatoes from my garden. I added carrots, onions, and cabbage, along with some white beans I cooked earlier in the week, and served it over slices of crusty grilled Italian bread topped with a scoop of celery pesto and a drizzle of our own extra virgin olive oil harvested last year. Room temperature soups, chock full of healthy vegetables, are a great option for those warm summer days, and I in fact made enough to freeze batches for future meals.

To be perfectly honest, this is one of those soups that you really do not need to measure out the ingredients. I throw equal amounts of any seasonal vegetables I have on hand, cover with water, add a couple of bouillon cubes, then let simmer for a couple of hours. I usually add pasta, rice, bread, or in this case white beans to enrich the soups as well as whatever fresh herbs I have in my garden. Normally I would not choose cabbage for my summer minestrone, but unfortunately the day I was at my local grocery, this was the only green vegetable available. I would prefer spinach, kale, or Swiss chard in place of the cabbage, but you can choose whatever you prefer. I used a tiny white bean only found here in Umbria called Resina di Spello, but any white bean such as cannellini beans would work fine.

I recently read the China Study, a book recommended by my daughter who is a nutritionist, and it truly is an eye opener. Since reading this book, I am trying to incorporate more plant based meals into our weekly menu and quite frankly I do not miss the meat! The addition of beans to this soup boosts the nutritional and heartiness value, although you could also throw in some farro, barely, or other whole grain. If you haven’t considered a vegeatable packed minestrone soup for your summer entree, do try it, and let me know what you think. We love these types of soups, and I always think of them as a multivitamins in a bowl.

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Buon Appetito!
Deborah Mele 2013

Summer Garden Soup With Celery Leaf Pesto

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 3 Cups Chopped Carrots
  • 3 Cups Chopped Celery
  • 3 Cups Chopped Onion
  • 4 Garlic Cloves, Minced
  • 4 Cups Chopped Greens (See note above)
  • 3 Cups Cherry Tomatoes, Halved
  • 3 Cups Chopped Zucchini
  • 1/3 Cups Chopped Parsley
  • 5 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Basil
  • 2 Teaspoons Dried Oregano
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 2 Bouillon Cubes (Chicken or Vegetable)
  • 2 Cups Cooked Small White Beans, Drained

Celery Pesto:

  • 2 Cups Celery Leaves
  • 1 Large Garlic Clove
  • 1/3 Cup Lightly Toasted Pine Nuts
  • 1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Extra Virgin Olive OIl

To Serve:

  • Sliced Crusty Italian Bread (1 Per Serving)
  • Extra Virgin Olive OIl

Directions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot and add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic, and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring often.
  2. Add the greens, tomatoes, zucchini, parsley, basil, oregano, salt and pepper, and bouillon cubes, and cover with water by 1-inch.
  3. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 90 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.
  4. Add the cooked beans and mix well.
  5. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed, then let cool to room temperature.
  6. While the soup is simmering make the pesto by adding the celery, garlic, pine nuts, lemon, salt and pepper into a food processor.
  7. Pulse until well blended, then slowly drizzle in enough olive oil to make a thick paste, pulsing frequently.
  8. Taste the pesto, and adjust seasonings as needed.
  9. Lightly grill the bread slices, then place in the bottom of soup bowls.
  10. Spoon the soup over the bread, then add a scoop of the celery pesto and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
  11. Serve immediately.