Although February in the Vallespir isn’t as cold as some parts of the world, a comforting soup is always welcome on a winter’s day. Especially after a winter’s bike ride to Amelie Farmer’s Market. I like to visit the organic vegetable stall, stacked with seasonal produce perfect for minestrone soup! The mobile poultry wagon visits the market each week, thundering down the mountain roads from St Laurens loaded with chickens, quails and ducks reared on their farm. I also like to peruse Florence’s array of stunning chocolates; our new chocolatier from Belgium, who arrived in the valley following some time in Colorado. By the time I leave Amelie Les Bains my bike paniers are threatening to burst and all I can think about is tucking into a hearty minestrone soup.
Famished by the time I’ve trekked by up the valley, my ingredients sprawled over the kitchen table; including a tiny chicken (coquelet). On this occasion I watched the decapitation of my chicken, tough to see, but I do think it’s important to understand where your food comes from. I like to make stock from the gizzards so there’s minimal waste- plus they make exceptional stock!
If you don’t have time to slow cook the leeks in advance add them, raw, to the garlic, celery and onions to cook.
100g Dry haricot beans or any dried bean, soaked overnight then simmered
until soft or a 400g tin
2 Onions, fresh if possible or 6 spring onions trimmed and finely sliced
1 stick Celery, finely diced
4 Green Garlic, trimmed and finely sliced (or 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced)
50g Everyday extra virgin olive oil
400g Tin of chopped tomatoes (or if you are lucky enough to have preserved yourown this is the time to use them)
2 Slow cooked leeks, drained of extra oil (or add the raw leeks to the onion and garlic)
2 litres Chicken or Vegetable Stock
100g Soup Pasta (eg any tiny pasta)
Parsley, roughly chopped
100g Young spinach leaves, remove and discard any thick stems and roughly chop
Sweat the onions, celery, garlic, oil, about 50mls of water and a generous pinch of salt in a large pan, covered, over a low heat until completely soft and sweet smelling (include the leeks if you haven’t pre-cooked them). Expect this to take 30-45 minutes. Remove the cover and continue cooking until any excess water has evaporated.
Pour in the tomatoes including any juice, bring back to a simmer and continue cooking uncovered until the juice from the tomatoes has started to evaporate and the tomatoes have started to turn a slightly deeper red. This will take around 15-20 mins.
Add the drained cooked beans, the slow cooked leeks and the chicken stock, bring to a simmer. Then tip in the pasta and bring back to simmer then cook until the pasta is tender. Grind in lots of black pepper into the soup, check the seasoning, and just before serving stir in the parsley and the spinach.