You should know I didn’t set out, at the beginning of this week, to bring you two back-to-back soup recipes. I mean, yes, here I am, standing before you with a bowl of minestrone, all while, three short days ago, I went on and on about pureéd roasted carrots, but, thing is, while Tuesday’s post was born out of necessity, a sort of Bon Appétit-inspired scrambling to make something out of nothing in the fridge, today’s post has been brewing for weeks, ever since Tim and I took a quick trip to St. Louis to see our friends Joanna and Brad. A few gulps into the homemade minestrone they gave us Saturday night, sitting around the table in Brad’s grandma’s kitchen after hours outside enjoying the brisk November air, I knew two things: (1) There is nothing like homemade beef broth and (2) I wanted more.
Conveniently, the week before Thanksgiving, Tim slow-cooked grass-fed beef ribs for dinner one night (they were amazing! so fork-tender! falling off the bone! and, like so many of the things we end up eating on regular weeknights, not at all based on a recipe! Never fear, however, because I’ve already begged Tim to make them for dinner again sometime soon—only this time, while I follow him around with paper and pen). Anyway, after we ate, I didn’t even bother saving the bones in the fridge; instead, I set to work right away.
All the bones went straight into my largest stock pot, along with enough water to cover them well. I added a little vinegar and brought the mixture to a boil, then reduced it to a simmer; between that night and the next day, I kept reducing the liquid and adding water for a total of six hours, until we ended up with a rich and fragrant, beautifully dark, nourishing beef broth, which we strained and put in the freezer.
Then this week, I remembered my plans for minestrone.
The basic idea with minestrone is to sauté a mirepoix (i.e., blend of chopped celery, onions and carrots and a fun word to say!), which in this case also includes garlic and chopped rainbow chard stems, until soft and the onions are translucent. Add greens and (sweet) potato. Add tomatoes and herbs (thyme). A little bean purée, a lot of broth and a cheese rind later, and you have a chunky, hearty soup that screams winter comfort. The last touches are more beans and some fresh parsley, with as much salt and pepper as you like. We also like to toast a couple slices of bread—maybe dip them in oil and leftover dukkah spice? thanks Gemma for that idea!—to get into full last-day-of-November-or-not hibernation mode.
While I was making the soup, at different moments, I would stand there looking at the bulging pile of rainbow chard or the arrestingly red grape tomatoes, thinking, “How beautiful!” and want to grab my phone to capture what I saw.
And as I did, as I pulled out my Canon and reached for my phone, as I tagged my greens #currently and went to stirring the broth, I kept asking myself the same question I’ve been asking myself since Jess posed it on November 15 and Jacqui followed up four days later: Why do I take pictures of my food? What does it mean to me?
If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I care about motive. If you ask me out to dinner but reveal you didn’t want to come, all that matters is why you did and what I think of that. If you hate cooking and think it’s dumb to post a picture of a cookie, all I want to know is why.
So when Jess and Jacqui put the question out there, “Why does it matter to take pictures of food?” I, with my analytical brain, was surprised to realize, as often as I take pictures of the things I eat, that finding my own reasons for doing so wasn’t easy (note I’m talking more about Instagramming my dinner than I am about shooting photos for a blog post, which involves an immediately obvious rationale). Why do we want to post our breakfast? Why is it it fun to photograph a piece of cake?
Like Jess, I think I photograph my dinner, sometimes, because something about it grabbed me and because I want to capture everyday beauty. Like Jacqui, I photograph food because the beauty of food makes me happy and gives me pleasure, and I’m enamored with everything that surrounds the table.
Really though, it’s all of those things and more of those things, and the many reasons for why we snap a shot of lunch could change as often as we do, I’m sure.
But, right now, the best answer I’ve been able to hit at, the one that rings most true for me, is that, mostly, I take pictures of food—and of trees and of Tim and of the way the light hits my bed at night, like in the Polaroid above, which I found at my parents’ place last week, because, somehow, for me, the very act of clicking a shutter, of forcing myself to stop and consider, can be what John Ruskin said we could only find by not just looking at a leaf but by drawing it (as discussed in one of my favorite books).
Taking a picture of something before me, which in my current lifestyle is often food, can be the best way I know to teach myself to notice, to consider—to see.
What do you think? If you’re like me and often find yourself caught by the look of that meal on your plate, what makes you photograph it? I would love to know.
Adapted from Giada’s Winter Minestrone Recipe
Serves 4 to 6
This minestrone should really be labeled Giada’s minestrone, because, save for a few substitutions and personalized instructions, the recipe is basically hers. The generally principles as mentioned in the post are not hard to remember, though, so feel free to tweak.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Stalks from a bunch of rainbow chard, chopped
Leaves from a bunch of rainbow chard, chopped
1 small sweet potato, peeled, cubed
1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
a spring of fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups cannellini beans, soaked and cooked ahead of time*
4 cups beef broth**
a 1-ounce piece of Pecorino rind
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat the olive oil in a heavy, large pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, chopped carrots, chopped celery, chopped garlic and chopped chard stems. Saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped rainbow chard leaves and cubed sweet potato; saute for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and thyme. Simmer until the chard is wilted and the tomatoes break down, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, blend 3/4 cup of the cooked beans with 1/4 cup of the broth in a processor until almost smooth. Add this pureed bean mixture, the remaining broth and the Pecorino cheese rind to the vegetable mixture. Simmer until the sweet potato pieces are tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Stir in the rest of the beans and the parsley. Simmer until the beans are heated through and the soup is thick, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Discard Parmesan rind and thyme sprig if you can find it.
Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.
*You could alternatively use canned cannellini beans.
**We went with an unseasoned homemade beef broth, so if you choose a store-bought version, look for low sodium so you’re able to control the salt in the recipe.