Maybe it's because Italy has been in the news. Maybe it's because of what was in the kitchen and garden. I don't know. But a minestrone like this one is a really easy slow-cooker dish that you can easily tweak and adjust and use to 'use up' small amounts of veges and beans and grains. With the basic mirepoix (a fancy French word for celery, carrot and onion - we should probably use the Italian equivalent today, soffritto), tomato and tomato paste, beans of some kind, olive oil and oregano, you have your flavour base and you can improvise from there. This isn't a calorie-packed dish, coming in easily around 23 cal/oz before the agave syrup (which you wouldn't add if you were eating this dish) but then again, you'd probably add parmesan and bring it back up again a bit. It would be supremely easy to take this up to 30 cal/oz by upping the seed and nut quotient and adding a few extra hi-cal ingredients (maybe an avocado), similarly, the weight watchers will want to know that this is a very thick minestrone and would be just as flavourful with more stock in a thinner incarnation, and you can delete the nuts and seeds which would be garnish anyway, and halve the oil, which would take it down a long long way. Here's what's in it:
Fennel bulb, large: 51cal.
Carrot 150g: 48 cal.
Sweet Potato 350g: 228 cal.
Celery 200g: 30 cal.
Onion, 1 medium: 30 cal.
Garlic, 3 cloves: 11 cal. (yes even garlic has calories)
Pearl Barley 150g: 260 cal.
Wild Cambrian Rice 100g: 365 cal.
Tomato paste 125g: 93 cal
Red kidney beans tinned 240g net: 240 cal.
Tinned tomatoes 400g net: 92 cal (can't wait til the first garden-grown ones are ready)
Green beans 125g: 36 cal.
Stock cubes, vegetable, x2: 60 cal.
EVOO 120ml: 960 cal.
Celery leaf herb
Sesame seeds 50g: 283 cal.
Pine nuts 40g: 270 cal.
Agave syrup 120ml: 360 cal.
Total volume 4 litres = 16 x 250ml servings @214 cal each
For me, I'll be adding a half-glass of kefir to it at serving time, or maybe a calorie-rich juice like beetroot and apple, so there's another 100 cal or more right there and a very comfortable volume.
I'll give instructions as if I was making it to serve you dear oral eater, for lunch. put half the oil in a pan and sautee your mirepoix (carrot, celery, onion) along with the sliced fennel until the onion is as transparent as a lawyer's smile. Then dump the lot in the slow cooker. This extracts all the lovely flavours. Dice up your sweet potato, throw that in, and add everything except the green beans, seeds, nuts and agave (you're not having that last one anyway) and add water up to about 4 litres. Have a kettle handy for later, as you'll need to add some water as the barley and rice soak it up. Now ignore it for a couple of hours, and enjoy the aromas. Glance at the clock and realise that maybe 2 and a half or more hours have gone by and notice that the water level has dropped a bit. Add in your sliced green beans and some water, back up to the four litres. Cook another 30 minutes or so, just making sure the wild rice still has a bit of toothsome spring to it but the largest piece of sweet potato you can find is nice and tender. Let it rest a while before serving. This is actually important. To serve, heat a dry frypan, then lightly toast first the pine nut then the sesame seeds until they get a nice golden brown, and sprinkle them on top of each bowl, on a float of deep-fried parsnip shavings if you want to get all restauranty-fancy. A garlic and parmesan crouton would be terrific on the side also, or a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan.
Us blenders, we don't bother with the sauteeing or toasting seeds etc. One slow-cooker, two stages, done. Blend with the nuts and seeds and agave and any other things you want to add in.
Remember, all those vegetabley things can be substituted for whatever you have that needs harvesting or using up. But the mirepoix is a must-do, OK? You could use frozen stuff. Same with the beans, and if you want to use dried beans or legumes, then just soak for an appropriate period beforehand. This dish is one of those kings-of-leftovers dishes, or as some chefs have been known to call them, bottom-of-the-fridge specials. I needed to harvest fennel, and almost used some artichokes as they needed collecting too, but decided at the last minute that I'd do them separately tomorrow with some sort of grain and.....I'll work it out tomorrow.