If you asked me today what my favorite season for vegetables was, I would immediately answer, SPRING!
And … then if you asked me again in July, I would immediately say, SUMMER!
In October … FALL!
But if you made me choose one. I mean, really choose one, I would absolutely have to go with Spring. There is something about Spring vegetables that gets me more excited than any other season. Maybe it's because the Winter vegetable season seems so long and I am so excited for that change. Maybe it's also because some of my favorite vegetables come around in the Spring. Or maybe it's because it feels like Spring vegetables are around for a much shorter period of time than other seasons, making some of the vegetables feel like an anomaly. I get really excited about anomaly vegetables, because I love having something different to cook with, and they never seem to hang around long enough for me to overuse them (like my best buddy kale, for example).
The other day, I was at the Union Square Greenmarket when I spotted ramps for the first time. By now I am sure you've heard of ramps, and maybe you're even lucky enough to have cooked with some. They are easily one of the most excitable farmers market finds … but sometimes these vegetables fall victim to their popularity. They become "too cool".
As I was shoveling mass amounts of ramps into a bag to take home with me, I overheard some guy saying "I don't get why everyone gets so excited about ramps. They're just like an onion, but I like onions more."
I looked down at my overflowing bag and wondered the same. What is it about these ramps that are so exciting and alluring? Is it their taste, or is it that they grow in the wild and they are only around for such a short period of time? I realized for me, it is a little of both, but it's back to that anomaly thing. And, that dude was totally wrong, they are not just like an onion … they are something ever so slightly different, and that smallest different totally matters to me.
You know that I love things in my soup. I love toppings, I love contrasts of textures, and I love love love sauces like pesto in soups. Particularly with a vegetable heavy soup like this. It adds another level of flavor swirling through the broth and veggies. This soup and pesto is so tasty, so comforting, so inviting, it is one of those things I could eat everyday of my life and be totally content.
As with many of the soups that I like to make, this one is very flexible in terms of ingredients. You can go to the grocery store, or farmers market, and pick up all the greens that look good and throw them in here. The more the better, there really is no right or wrong. I was lucky the other day to have found some awesome anomaly ingredients like baby bok choy, young broccoli leaves, and baby russian kale. I realize that these are not always easy to find, but if you do, grab them and use them in this soup.
And, if you still have yet to stumble upon a ramp, no worries, you can simply sub your favorite pesto recipe for this soup.
spring vegetable minestrone + wild ramp pesto
2 for dinner or 4 as an app
1 smallish fennell bulb (white + green parts), diced
1 medium spring onion (or white onion), diced
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
1 white potato, peeled and diced
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of salt (depending on how much salt you like - I err on more for soup)
1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (optional, for a kick)
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
2 cups of white (cannellini) beans (I found that a good quality -organic- canned bean worked well for this)
6 cups of water
3 handfuls of leafy greens (I used a somewhat exotic mix of baby kale, baby bok choy, and young broccoli, but you can use whatever leafy green you like and have available. Kale, spinach, swiss chad, regular bok choy would all work well)
for the wild ramp pesto:
about 10 ramps (white + green parts) cleaned and diced
1/3 cup of almonds, lightly toasted
the juice of 1/2 a lemon
a small handful of arugula (optional, if you have some handy)
1/4 teaspoon of salt
a few cracks of black pepper + a pinch of red pepper flakes
1/3-1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
Get the soup started:
- In a large, heavy bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add the fennel and onion. Cook for several minutes until they have softened.
- Then add the garlic, potato, salt, thyme, and red pepper flakes, stir, and cook for about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the beans and the water, bring to a boil over medium heat and then reduce to a simmer.
- Simmer for 60-90 minutes.
While the soup is simmering, prepare the pesto:
- Add all of the ingredients for the pesto, except for the oil, to a food processor and pulse several times until the ingredients are finely chopped.
- Then, add in the olive oil in a slow stream until it is emulsified.
- Taste and adjust any seasoning as necessary.
Finish the soup, and serve:
- After the soup has been simmering for a while, taste and make sure they flavors are to your liking. If it is too watery, let it simmer a bit longer to develop more flavors, but I usually find it is good after an hour.
- Then, add the greens, and stir until they wilt. This should only take about 2-5 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat.
- Then serve by ladling the soup into bowls and adding a spoonful (or more if you like) of the pesto on top.
- This will keep well for several days in an air-tight container in the fridge. If you end up with extra pesto, you can store that as well for about 10 days. The pesto goes well on all sorts of things from bread, to eggs, or tossed with vegetables.