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Mar 4, 2014
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WINE WITH…Minestrone

The days are getting longer, but spring weather still seems so elusive that all we want to do right now is hunker down indoors with a nice bottle of wine and a bowl of warm, nourishing soup for supper. Minestrone fits the bill.

Few soups are easier to make, and few offer the same rewards. Spare in calories, soothing in flavor but robust in texture, minestrone calls for the simplest ingredients. Descended from an ancient Italian tradition, this soup is based on seasonal vegetables (zucchini, green beans, kale are all good additions). Minestrone sometimes includes meat, and sometimes not. In this version we’ve opted to keep it strictly vegetarian, but do feel free to use chicken stock instead of water, or for that matter add chicken or beef if that appeals to you. A sprinkling of Parmesan when the soup is served adds further flavor, and good bread or focaccia is the only accompaniment you’ll need. Pass extra hot sauce if you like extra spice; it may not be traditionally Italian, but one of us craves a generous jolt of it in the soup (the other not so much).

As with all soups, minestrone develops richer flavors if made a day ahead.

Minestrone

Serves 4

4 tablespoons olive oil (divided use)
1 medium onion, minced
1 carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, trimmed and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 small potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
1 cup diced tomatoes, fresh or canned
1-2 teaspoons hot sauce such as Sriracha (optional)
1 cup cannellini, navy, or other white beans (if using canned, rinse off the brine)
2 cups finely chopped spinach
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Place 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery, and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or so, until they are beginning to soften and have just started to color. Stir in the garlic then add the potatoes. Salt and pepper generously and continue cooking another 10 minutes or so, until the vegetables are nicely golden. Add the tomatoes and five cups of water. Add the hot sauce (if using). Simmer the soup for about 15 minutes, then add the beans and spinach. Continue cooking for another 5-10 minutes, or until the spinach is cooked. Ladle the soup into individual bowls, drizzle a little olive oil over the top, and pass the cheese at the table.

* * *

Our minestrone went equally well with both reds and whites, so long as the reds weren’t too tannic and the whites too light-bodied. Balance is the key here. You want a wine that complements the soothing character of the soup, so no matter the color, too much of any elements seems, well, too much. Don’t choose a heavily oaked or assertively acidic white. Similarly, stay away from sweet-tasting reds or ones sporting high levels of alcohol. Opt instead for something gentle and comforting. After all, that’s what this simple meal is all about.

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Cono Sur, Valle Central (Chile) Chardonnay “Bicicleta” 2012

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$12

A refreshing Chardonnay, this wine shows no sign of oak aging, so tastes bright and lively, with pineapple and citrus fruit flavors and a warm finish. Sipping it with the soup made the minestrone seem equally lively..

DaVinci, Tuscany (Italy) Chianti 2011

(Imported by DaVinci USA)

$15

Showing some of the dusty character that distinguishes traditional Chianti, this wine is also international in focus, meaning that it emphasizes fresh rather than dried fruit flavors and feels seductively smooth on the palate. It brought depth to the minestrone.

Essay, Western Cape (South Africa) Chenin Blanc 2013

(Imported by International Wine Imports)

$12

Surprisingly round on the palate, this wine displays bright autumn fruit that leads to a supple finish. Its texture even more than its flavor is what made it such a good minestrone companion.

Fairview, Coastal Region (South Africa) Pinotage/ Viognier 2010

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$20

An interesting blend of grape varieties, this fairly light-bodied red offers plum-like fruit flavors and a silky texture. The small amount of Viognier seems to temper the Pinotage’s excess, resulting in a harmonious whole.

.

Laurent Miquel Père et Fils, Languedoc (France) Chardonnay/ Viognier 2012

(Imported by Miquel et Fils)

$52

A pretty, bright and very smooth white blend, this wine matched the minestrone’s texture while adding a hint of peach-scented fruit. The result was a lively and luscious pairing.