Minestrone with freshly-baked bread

Winter is well and truly upon us which means it’s soup season! As much as I hate the bone-chilling cold of winter, it does give me a good excuse to snuggle up on the sofa with a blanket with a big bowl of warm, hearty soup.

I love minestrone for its thick, almost stew-like consistency, and the fact that it’s packed full of vegetables. Adding some pasta into the soup or serving the soup along with some bread turns it into a complete meal, and after a bowl or two I’m full and satisfied, and not to mention warm and toasty as well!

The great thing about this soup is that you can use any vegetables you want in it. It’s a great way to get your vegetable intake for the day and also gives you a chance to clean out your fridge. I love using bacon in my soup to give it a salty, meaty base, but you can always omit this if you’re a vegetarian (or if god forbid, bacon is not your thing).

The first time I made this soup was when my parents were sick and so I decided to make them some warm, comforting soup and also bake some bread to go with it. Nothing keeps you warm like a bowl of soup and fresh bread straight out of the oven!

I first tasted this bread at Billy’s Christmas in July gathering and have made it several times since then. It’s surprisingly easy to make and so rewarding to pull your own freshly-baked bread out of the oven. And the best part is that everyone who I have made it for seems to love it :)

adapted from this Gourmet Traveller recipe

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
100g bacon, finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, cut into 1cm pieces
1 large carrot, cut into 1cm pieces
2 (about 400g) potatoes, diced
1 x 400g can Italian tomatoes
1 litre chicken stock
1 litre water
1 x 400g can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
80g small dried soup pasta
2 medium zucchini, diced
250g peas

1. Heat oil in a heavy-based large saucepan, add onion, garlic and bacon and stir occasionally over medium heat for 10 minutes or until onion is soft.

2. Add celery, carrot and potatoes and stir to coat in oil, then add tomatoes, stock and water and simmer over medium heat for 25 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Mash up any large pieces of tomato with the wooden spoon. Add beans, pasta and zucchini and cook for another 10 minutes. Stir in peas and cook for 2 minutes, then season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Pain d’Epi Bread
adapted from this Jamie Oliver recipe

500g strong bread flour (I just used plain flour)
315ml tepid water (about body temperature)
15g fresh yeast or 1.5 x 7g sachets (about 10g) dried yeast
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp fine sea salt
extra flour for dusting

1. Pile the flour on to a clean surface and make a large well in the centre. Pour half your water into the well, then add your yeast, sugar and salt and stir with a fork.

2. Slowly, but confidently, bring in the flour from the inside of the well. (You don’t want to break the walls of the well, or the water will go everywhere.) Continue to bring the flour in to the centre until you get a stodgy, porridgey consistency – then add the remaining water. Continue to mix until it’s stodgy again, then you can be more aggressive, bringing in all the flour, making the mix less sticky. Flour your hands and pat and push the dough together with all the remaining flour. (Certain flours need a little more or less water, so feel free to adjust.)

3. With a bit of elbow grease, push, fold, slap and roll the dough around, over and over, for 4 or 5 minutes until you have a silky and elastic dough.

4. Flour the top of your dough. Put it in a bowl, cover with clingfilm, and allow it to prove for about half an hour until doubled in size – ideally in a warm, moist, draught-free place

5. Once the dough has doubled in size, knock the air out for 30 seconds by bashing it and squashing it.

6. If you are shaping your bread into pain d’epi, divide the dough in half for 2 small pain d’epi or keep it whole for 1 large one. Form a small ball with your dough and then stretch it out into an oval shape. Fold the oval into thirds by bringing the two long sides of the oval towards the centre. Pinch the seam closed to taper the end of the short sides of your oval. It should resemble a baguette shape. Gently stretch out the dough into a log until you have a long, thin baguette shape and it is the thickness that you want for your bread. Place the log onto a lined baking sheet dusted lightly with flour. Leave it to prove for a second time for 30 minutes to an hour until it has doubled in size once more. This is the most important part, as the second prove will give it the air that finally ends up being cooked into your bread, giving you the really light, soft texture that we all love in fresh bread.

7. Preheat the oven to 230ºC.

8. The dough will be expanded once more, and now should be fat and bouncy. Sprinkle the dough rings with flour. With your kitchen scissors, cut the dough from one end of the log at a 45 degree angle until you are about 0.5cm from the baking sheet. Being careful not to cut all the way through the dough. Lay the piece you’ve cut over to one side, and lay subsequent pieces on alternating sides to create the pain d’epi shape. Continue to cut in this fashion until you’ve reached the other end.

9. Bake the pain d’epi in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. You can tell if it’s cooked by tapping its bottom – if it sounds hollow it’s done, if it doesn’t then pop it back in for a little longer.Once cooked, place on a rack and allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes. Leftover bread can be frozen.

7 thoughts on “Minestrone with freshly-baked bread”

  1. This soup looks great – and so easy to make. I’m going to try it next weekend. I might just buy a nice loaf of sourdough to go with it though – don’t want to go overboard with the cooking! LOL.

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