There is no better homage to new season's vegetables than The River Cafe's Summer Minestrone from their fantastic first book. It is not strictly a Minestrone at all as it contains no dried beans, pasta or bacon and I was full of apprehension when I came to make it again, as I had not tasted since I was working there, about 20 years ago. I remembered it being the most stunning soup and I was anxious that it was not going to live up to its memory. I needn't had worried - it was absolutely delicious. I even managed to find it still on The River Cafe's Summer Menu on their website, and at £12.50 a bowl, it damn well should be!
Summer Minestrone (Minestrone Estivo)
This Recipe Serves 10
2 garlic cloves peeled and chopped 1 small head celery, chopped 3 small red onions, peeled and chopped 4 tablespoons olive oil 900g thin asparagus trimmed and cut into 1cm pieces using only tips and tender parts 450g young green beans ,trimmed and chopped 450g peas, shelled 900g broad beans, shelled sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 1L chicken stock or water 1/2 bunch basil finely chopped (or marjoram or mint) 300ml double cream 150g Parmesan freshly grated 120ml pesto
In a heavy sauce pan fry the garlic celery and onion gently in the olive oil until soft about 10 minutes.
Divide all other vegetables between two bowls. Add half to the onion mixture and cook stirring to coat with oil for a further 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover with chicken stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 minutes.
Add the remaining vegetables and cook for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the herbs, cream, Parmesan and pesto. Stir to cool at room temperature, then serve.
Pesto ½ a clove of garlic, chopped Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 3 good handfuls of fresh basil, leaves picked and chopped A handful of pine nuts, very lightly toasted A good handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese Extra virgin olive oil Optional A small squeeze of lemon juice
Pound the garlic with a little pinch of salt and the basil leaves in a pestle and mortar, or pulse in a food processor. Add a bit more garlic if you like, but I usually stick to ½ a clove. Add the pine nuts to the mixture and pound again. Turn out into a bowl and add half the Parmesan. Stir gently and add olive oil – you need just enough to bind the sauce and get it to an good consistency.
Season to taste, then add most of the remaining cheese. Pour in some more oil and taste again. Keep adding a bit more cheese or oil until you are happy with the taste and consistency. You may like to add a squeeze of lemon juice at the end but it’s not essential. Try it with and without and see which you prefer.