Making Minestrone with Michael Smith


Michael Smith is one of Kansas City’s most venerated chefs. The James Beard Award winner is sought after for his innovative and artisanal dishes and globally minded cuisine. His newest restaurant concept, Farina, focuses on rustic Italian food, and his classic minestrone recipe was inspired by a trip to Alby, Italy, a few years ago. “I met one of the hardest-working winemakers I’ve ever encountered—Fabio Oberto,” says Smith in his cookbook, Farina. “He was passionate about everything—the land, the vines, the grapes, and, most of all, the winery he and his father built.” Smith remembers feeling as though Oberto welcomed him into his family through his wine. “I feel the same way about a tasty bowl of minestrone; you just want to savor each spoonful,” he says. “Just remember to add the precooked pasta to the soup when you’re ready to eat so it will be chewy and toothsome.”

Photo: Jenny Wheat Photography, Style: Janie Jones

Yields 5 quarts

1.5 cups diced pancetta (or prosciutto scraps)
1 cup diced yellow onion
1 cup diced fennel
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced hard squash
1 cup diced potato
4 cloves garlic – thinly sliced
1 cup dry great northern white beans – or substitute canned
3 cups diced summer tomatoes – if using canned, then chop well
2 6-oz. cans tomato paste
4 quarts hearty chicken broth
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup hard cheese rinds – Parmesan or Grana Padano
2 tablespoons fresh oregano – chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme – picked leaves
1 bay leaf

For Garnish:
½ teaspoon fennel pollen
Fresh basil – chopped
Fresh cracked black pepper
2 cups cooked ditali pasta
Grated grana padano cheese

Soak white beans overnight or for at least two hours. Strain beans and set aside. 

In a large soup pot over medium heat, add pancetta and onions and cook until pancetta starts releasing its fat, about three to four minutes, then add garlic and cook an additional minute, being careful not to burn the garlic. 

Next, stir in thyme, oregano, bay leaf, and tomato paste. Cook these ingredients together for three more minutes. 

Add beans, chicken broth, cheese rinds, and pepper flakes and simmer over low heat until beans are almost cooked through; about 45 minutes (if they were soaked overnight). 

Next, add potatoes, carrots, celery, squash, fennel, tomatoes, and continue to simmer until vegetables and beans are firm but not mushy.  

When soup is finished, remove the cheese rinds and add fennel pollen, basil, and cooked ditali. Adjust the seasoning and serve in individual soup bowls with a garnish of crusty artisanal bread, olive oil, and grana padano cheese.

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