Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Cook's Illustrated


Serves 6 to 8. Published January 1, 2010. From Cook's Illustrated.

If you are pressed for time you can “quick-brine” your beans. In step 1, combine the salt, water, and beans in a large Dutch oven and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let stand 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans and proceed with the recipe. We prefer cannellini beans, but navy or great Northern beans can be used. We prefer pancetta, but bacon can be used. To make this soup vegetarian, substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth and 2 teaspoons of olive oil for the pancetta. Parmesan rind is added for flavor, but can be replaced with a 2-inch chunk of the cheese. In order for the starch from the beans to thicken the soup, it is important to maintain a vigorous simmer in step 3. The soup can be cooled, covered tightly, and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat it gently and add basil just before serving.

table salt
1/2pound dried cannellini beans (about 1 cup), rinsed and picked over (see note)
1tablespoon extra virgin olive oil , plus extra for serving
3ounces pancetta , cut into 1/4-inch pieces (see note)
2medium celery ribs , cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3/4 cup)
1medium carrot , peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3/4 cup)
2small onions , peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
1medium zucchini , trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
2medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1/2small head green cabbage , halved, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups) (see step by step below)
1/8 - 1/4teaspoon red pepper flakes
8cups water
2cups low-sodium chicken broth
1piece Parmesan cheese rind , about 5 by 2 inches (see note)
1bay leaf
1 1/2cups V8 juice
1/2cup chopped fresh basil leaves
ground black pepper
grated Parmesan cheese , for serving


  1. 1. Dissolve 1 1/2 tablespoons salt in 2 quarts cold water in large bowl or container. Add beans and soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.

  2. 2. Heat oil and pancetta in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pancetta is lightly browned and fat has rendered, 3 to 5 minutes. Add celery, carrot, onions, and zucchini; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 5 to 9 minutes. Stir in garlic, cabbage, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and red pepper flakes; continue to cook until cabbage starts to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Transfer vegetables to rimmed baking sheet and set aside.

  3. 3. Add soaked beans, water, broth, Parmesan rind, and bay leaf to now-empty Dutch oven and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and vigorously simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are fully tender and liquid begins to thicken, 45 to 60 minutes.

  4. 4. Add reserved vegetables and V8 juice to pot; cook until vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf and Parmesan rind, stir in chopped basil, and season with salt and pepper. Serve with olive oil and grated Parmesan.

Making Thicker, More Flavorful Minestrone

Brine beans overnight in 2 quarts water and 1 1/2 tablespoons salt.

Sauté vegetables and remove them before cooking beans to preserve their texture.

Cook beans at vigorous simmer to release their starch which will act as thickener.

Return vegetables to pot, along with V8 juice and chopped fresh basil leaves.

Have a V8
Though completely nontraditional, V8 juice trumped all the other types of tomato products we tried in our soup. It added just the right amount of bright tomato taste with an even bigger wallop of vegetable flavor—the real goal of our recipe. We’re surprised the Italians didn’t think of it first.


To Thicken Soup, Boil Your Beans
For our Hearty Minestrone recipe, we cook the dried beans in chicken broth and water before combining them with the other ingredients. We noticed that by the time the beans became tender, the cooking liquid in some batches of beans had a nice thick consistency, while others were thin and watery. Could this be due to how much heat was under the pot?

To find out, we cooked two pots of beans (both soaked first overnight in a brine, according to our recipe)—one at a bare simmer and the second pot at a vigorous simmer—until the beans in each became tender. We then drained each batch of cooking liquid into a measuring cup, adding water to the vigorously simmered batch until it was level with the gently simmered cooking liquid.

Even with water added to compensate for evaporation, the cooking liquid from the boiled beans was significantly thicker than the more gently simmered liquid.

A higher cooking temperature causes more starch to be released from beans. As they simmer, their coats may look smooth and unbroken, but starches are continually being released into the water through a section of their seed coat called the “hilum.” These starches absorb the hot liquid and eventually burst, releasing the molecule amylose, which acts as a thickener. So the next time you want a thicker bean soup, remember: The more vigorous the simmer, the more starches that burst and the more viscous the broth.


Cutting Cabbage into Pieces
To cut a head of cabbage into evenly sized pieces for recipes such as Hearty Minestrone, use the following method.

1. Cut the cabbage into quarters, then cut away the hard piece of core attached to each quarter.

2. Separate the cored cabbage into stacks of leaves and flatten them by pressing lightly with your hands.

3. Using a chef’s knife, cut each stack lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide strips.

4. Gather the strips into bundles and cut them crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces.

America's Test Kitchen

America’s Test Kitchen is a 2,500-square-foot kitchen located just outside of Boston. It is the home of Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated magazines and is the workday destination for more than three dozen test cooks, editors, and cookware specialists. Our mission is to test recipes until we understand how and why they work and arrive at the best version. We also test kitchen equipment and supermarket ingredients in search of brands that offer the best value and performance. You can watch us work by tuning in to America’s Test Kitchen (www.americastestkitchen.com) on public television.

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