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Seasonal Pantry: Turn fall greens into soup, salsa verde

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Although we tend to think of spring as the green season, with all the brave little shoots poking up through the ground and trees sporting their first leaves, fall is a pretty green time, too, especially in Sonoma County.

We have mounds of chards, kales, lettuces, collards, and herbs at our farmers markets, poblanos and other chiles are at their peak, and there are still plenty of green beans and zucchini.

How do we best use this abundance? Now that September’s heat wave is behind us, soup is a great option.

The soup can be frozen, too, so don’t let the quantity scare you off. If you will enjoy 4 or so servings of it, freeze half the soup before adding the salsa verde. It will keep well in the freezer for about 3 months. Thaw it in the refrigerator and make a half batch of the salsa just before enjoying it. You’ll notice that many recipes for minestrone involve adding nearly all the ingredients at the same time. You can make a very good soup in this way, but I think this version is best when each ingredient is added at just the right time so that none will be overcooked. Some versions of minestrone are so thick that the ingredients merge with each other and it seems almost like a stew. This version is light and bright, with lots of variation in texture.

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Like all versions of minestrone, this one is nearly infinitely versatile. Vegans can omit the cheese. Anyone who doesn’t eat pasta can simply not add it; you don’t need a substitute for it. Use whatever greens you have on hand as long as you adjust cooking times. For example, if you use kale or collards instead of spinach or arugula, add with the green beans, as both require longer cooking. To make a Mexican-inspired version, see the variation that follows the main recipe. For an additional layer of flavor, replace half the olive oil with bacon fat.

Green Minestrone with Italian Salsa Verde

Makes 8 to 10 servings

½ cup olive oil, plus more as needed

1 large white or yellow onion, cut into small dice

3 leeks, white and pale green parts only, thoroughly washed and very thinly sliced

— Salsa Verde, recipe follows

8-10 garlic cloves, peeled and very thinly sliced

— Kosher salt

1½ pounds small new potatoes, peeled and quartered

10 cups homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

2 bay leaves

2 cups, approximately, cooked cannelini beans

6 ounces small dried pasta, such as small shells or ditalini

8 ounces small Blue Lake green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths

2 cups very thinly sliced green cabbage

1 pound small zucchini, cut into medium julienne

8 ounces small spinach leaves or small-leafed arugula

3 celery stalks, trimmed and cut into very thin diagonal slices

— Grated zest of 1 lemon

— Black pepper in a mill

1 small-medium chunk of Laura Chenel Tome or similar aged goat cheese

Pour the olive oil into a large soup pot set over medium-low heat, add the onion and leeks and sauté gently until soft and fragrant, about 20 minutes; do not let the vegetables brown.

While the onions and leeks cook, make the salsa verde (recipe below) and set it aside.

Add the garlic to the pan, sauté for 1 minute, and season with salt.

Add the potatoes, stock, and bay leaves, increase the heat, and bring to a boil. When the liquid boils, reduce the heat to low and simmer gently until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the cannellini beans and the pasta and cook until the pasta is almost but not quite done. Add the green beans, cabbage, zucchini and spinach or arugula and cook 4 minutes more.

Meanwhile, pour a little olive oil into a medium sauté pan set over medium heat, add the celery, and sauté until it just softens, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt, add the lemon zest, and stir into the soup.

Taste the soup, correct for salt, adding just enough to make the flavors blossom. If the soup is too thick for your taste, thin with more stock or with water and heat through. Add several very generous turns of black pepper.

Remove from the heat and let rest, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes. Use tongs to remove and discard the bay leaves.

Stir in the salsa verde and ladle into soup bowls or soup plates. Top each portion with a generous grating of cheese and enjoy right away.

Italian-Style Salsa Verde

Makes about 2 cups

3 cups loosely packed fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped

1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, optional, chopped (see Note below)

6 green onions, white and pale green parts only, very thinly sliced

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoon brined green peppercorns, drained and lightly crushed

— Grated zest of 2 lemons

¼ cup freshly squeeze lemon juice

— Kosher salt

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

— Black pepper in a mill

Put the parsley, cilantro, green onions, garlic, and green peppercorns into a medium bowl and toss with a fork. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and a generous sprinkling of salt. Taste and add a bit more salt if it tastes a bit flat. Stir in the olive oil, add several turns of black pepper, and toss well. Taste, correct for salt and acid, cover, and set aside until ready to use.

Note: If you don’t care for cilantro, simply omit it and replace it with either a cup of fresh basil leaves or another cup of Italian parsley leaves.

Variation: For a Mexican-style soup, use lime zest and lime juice in place of lemon juice. Omit the potatoes and use 1 28-ounce can of hominy instead. For the salsa verde, use 2 cups Italian parsley and 2 cups cilantro and add 1 or 2 minced serrano chiles.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The Good Cook’s Book of Oil & Vinegar”. Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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