Ingredients:
1 large yellow onion (finely chopped)
4 cloves garlic (sliced)
10 long stalks of celery (sliced)
10 carrots (diced in large cubes or sliced)
2 kg fresh roma tomatoes
1 zucchini (courgette)
5 large potatoes
1 tube organic roma tomato paste
Coarse sea salt
Ground rosemary
Crushed red pepper
Cayenne powder
2 sticks butter
3 cups organic beef or vegetable broth
Parmigiano reggiano cheese

On my way to the supermarket a few months ago, I discovered that we were having our first really cold day of the season, which put me in the mood for nothing more than copious amounts of hot soup.

Ever since my rendition of the minestrone alla romagnola recipe I found in Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking had been a resounding success as part of my family's holiday festivities last year, I have been occasionally riffing on minestrone to see if I can perfect it.

With this in mind, I wandered around Wild Oats, buying potatoes, celery, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, beef broth, onions, and bread. Pretty standard ingredients; the real idea for this soup didn't come to me until I had changed into my nightgown and was starting to do the prep work.

I didn't feel like pulling out the recipe, which I had already deviated from substantially (the cabbage was out [on general principle], no beans, etc.), so, as I chopped, I started mulling the idea of quantities. How much of this stuff was I going to put in?

That's when the idea occurred to me: "What the hell? I'll just put it all in."

So, I made large chunks out of four big potatoes, two whole bunches of celery (or whatever the collective term for celery is), two yellow onions, ten thick carrots, and six cloves of garlic.

When I had it all simmering in two sticks of butter and enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the stockpot, the solid ingredients came to four inches in height in an 11-inch diameter stockpot.

To this, I added a rather large (but unspecified) amount of beef broth, three large cans of whole peeled roma tomatoes and one large can of diced roma tomatoes, with all of the accompanying juice, and a tube of tomato paste, filling the pot to about five inches below the brim, and filled it the rest of the way with water. Even with the water in it, the soup was thick with vegetable bits.

I also added some oregano, rosemary, crushed red pepper, and a tiny bit of cayenne powder.

When it was done simmering, an hour and a half later, I added the rigatoni and fusilli I had cooked, and grated parmigiano reggiano on top.

With the first sip, I discovered pure ecstasy. This was exactly what I was looking for on such a freezing night. The broth was thick and hearty, the chunks of vegetables were abundant and their texture perfect. The whole thing was warm, filling, replenishing soupy goodness. It filled me with a warm, cosy feeling that lasted for hours.

I named it "Minestrone Mucchione", a rough translation of my initial name "Shitload-of-good stuff Minestrone".

Comfort food is good stuff.

Preparation

There are two basic options for preparation. Either you can prepare all of the vegetables before starting the soup, or you can prepare them in the sequence below. The second option is particularly useful if you are in a hurry . If you are using fresh tomatoes rather than canned, blanche them first by scoring them with an X at the bottom, removing the core and stem at the top, and allowing them to soak for 2 - 4 minutes in a pot of boiling water. After they have cooled, peel off the skins. I generally prefer to put the majority of the tomatoes in whole, only dicing a few.

1. Skin the zucchini and chop off its ends. Place it in a bowl of cold water for at least 20 minutes. Then, rinse off any remaining grit and dice it.

2. Finely chop the yellow onion.

3. Chop off the ends of the celery stalks and slice them.

4. Peel the carrots and slice or dice them.

5. Peel the potatoes, and chop them. I prefer to cut them more or less in the manner of "steak fries" so that they form long chunks. Cut the potato in half, slice it lengthwise, and then slice it perpendicularly.

6. Slice the garlic cloves thinly.

7. Dice the zucchini.

8. In a large stockpot, coat the bottom of the pot with extra virgin olive oil and place two sticks of butter in it.

9. When the oil begins to sizzle, add the onions, and stir them so that they are coated with the oil. Allow them to sautée, stirring occasionally, at medium-high to high heat, until they begin to darken slightly in colour. This should take approximately 10 minutes.

10. Add the sliced garlic, and allow it to cook for approximately 5 minutes, or until it becomes slightly golden brown.

11. Stir in the celery, and allow it to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

12. Add the carrots, and allow them to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

13. Add the potatoes, and allow them to simmer for 5 minutes.

14. Add just a pinch of cayenne pepper while the potatoes et al. are simmering.

15. Add the zucchini, stir it in, and allow the mix to cook for approximately 20 minutes.

16. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, and give the pot a brisk stirring.

17. Add 3 cups of organic beef or vegetable broth, and approximately two cups of water per cup of broth.

18. Stir vigourously, salt lightly.

19. Turn the heat up to high long enough to bring the soup to a slow boil, then turn the heat down to low and allow it to simmer for 3 hours, occasionally stirring. Add salt, rosemary, and crushed red pepper to taste.

20. Stir two cups of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese into the soup.

21. Allow the soup to cool, serve, and enjoy!

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