Red Winter Minestrone with Winter Greens Pesto

Red Winter Minestrone with Winter Greens Pesto
Red Winter Minestrone with Winter Greens Pesto

If you are a dedicated locavore, or farmer’s market shopper, or year-round CSA subscriber, you are all too familiar with this issue: depending on where you live, there are several loooong months of the year where the main local vegetables available are the hearty dark leafy greens and root vegetables. You are going to need a serious repertoire of kale recipes to get you through the winter. So when Oxbow Farm sent me a CSA box, I knew I wanted to give you a hearty, warming soup that would take advantage of what the season is offering.

The thing I like most about this soup is the pesto made from the greens of the beets and turnips, along with the kale. Yep, I’m going tip-to-tail. Now stay with me for a minute here, because I know that sounds like it has the potential to be bitter and unpalatable and nothing like good summer basil pesto. The key is that you need to blanch and shock the greens before making the pesto. That removes a lot of the bitterness, so the end result has a complex background flavor but lets the olive oil, parmesan cheese and garlic shine through. The recipe makes more pesto than you will need for the soup, but I don’t think you’ll mind the leftovers. Serve it on pasta the next day, or spread it on good artisan toast, or eat it off a spoon at midnight. (Yes.)

The soup itself gets that lovely red color from beets. In Italy, minestrone can be made with just about any seasonal vegetables, and beets are no exception. I kind of want to call this soup borschtestrone. But bringing down the wrath of both Jewish and Italian grandmothers worldwide can be hazardous to your health.

Highly recommended to cook the beans yourself, rather than use canned. The texture is better and you can use the bean cooking liquid as part of the soup broth for extra flavor.

The first part of cooking the soup itself is to make a sofrito – onions, tomatoes, garlic, etc. slowly cooked into a flavorful paste. If you have time on your hands, you might want to make a double or triple batch and save the rest to serve on pasta, or eggs, or to flavor rice. Sofrito freezes quite well.

By the way, if you live near Seattle, I’m cooking a dinner on Oct. 30 at Cafe Flora to support City Fruit – a fantastic organization that gather fruit from trees around the city that would otherwise go to waste. Learn more and register here. And thanks to Seattle Parks Foundation and City People’s Garden Store who have donated scholarship seats to this event!

Red Winter Minestrone with Winter Greens Pesto
Vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, kosher, and suitable for space use if pureed, gelled, and vacuum-packed
Serves 4 moderately as dinner with salad and bread

For The Winter Greens Pesto (makes more than you need for soup)

  • Greens from 1 bunch beets
  • Greens from 1 bunch turnips
  • 1 bunch kale
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 ounce parmigiano-reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and set up a large bowl full of ice water. Strip the beet greens, turnip greens, and kale from their coarse stems and wash them well. Put each bunch, one at a time, into the boiling water, and cook until they turn bright green and fairly limp. Use tongs to transfer immediately to the ice bath (where they can all swim together.)
  2. Remove from the ice bath and squeeze out as much moisture as possible.
  3. Puree the greens, olive oil, garlic, cheese, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a blender. Taste and adjust seasoning, then reserve in the refrigerator, covered directly on the surface with plastic wrap.

For the Red Winter Minestrone

  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (divided)
  • 1 white onion, finely diced or grated
  • 2 roma tomatoes, or two canned tomatoes, grated (leave out skins if using fresh)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 handful parsley leaves
  • 1 pinch chili flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon minced rosemary leaves
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts, cut into 1/2″ wide half-moons and well-washed
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/8″ thick circles
  • 1/2 pound turnips, peeled and cut into 1/3″ cubes
  • 1/2 pound beets, peeled and cut into 1/3″ cubes
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • Handful of green beans, cut into 1″ lengths
  • 2 cups cooked white beans (cannelini or similar) – reserve 3 cups of the cooking liquid if you cooked them yourself (recommended)
  • Optional: lemon juice
  1. In a big soup pot, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, tomato, garlic, parsley, chili flakes, bay leaf and rosemary and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Keep cooking until you’ve got a well caramelized, somewhat uniform base (sofrito). This will probably take at least 20-30 minutes.
  2. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and the leeks, carrot, turnips and beets. Raise heat to medium-high again. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the white wine and deglaze (scrape) the bottom of the pot with your spatula to dislodge any delicious browned bits. Cook for 2 minutes to boil off most of the alcohol. Add the green beans, white beans, and 3 cups of the bean cooking liquid and 2 cups of water (or, failing that, 5 cups of water). Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for a few more minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. It will certainly need more salt, and you might also like a squeeze of lemon juice.
  3. Divide among heated bowls and serve with a generous dollop of the winter greens pesto, which the diner can stir in.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, October 15th, 2012 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Recipes, Soups, Vegan or Modifiable.

11 Responses to “Red Winter Minestrone with Winter Greens Pesto”

  1. Reply
    Phil Berman
    October 15, 2012 at 7:34 am #

    Borschtestrone-sounds like my Jewish Ukrainian hormones.

  2. Reply
    October 15, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    Beet-greens: yes! I’m not sure about *mature* beet-greens, but the young ones — the ones culled by the farmer when s/he plants a whole row and then has to thin the herd — can be really wonderful. (It helps to know a beet-farmer, since these otherwise just get thrown out or fed to animals, etc.) When you get THAT kind, you get the whole plant, which leaf-to-root is probably only 6 inches. A quick blanch and a vinegar-y dressing makes a wonderful side-dish for a late-spring meal. If there’s some way to get a similar flavor sensation — halfway between beets, collard greens, and chard — from the late-season thing, I’m all for it!

  3. Reply
    October 16, 2012 at 2:39 am #

    I’m a big beetroot fan! Autumn is the perfect time to year to cook this great healthy vegetable. I made a Tzatziki dip with mine – just to do something different:
    link to

  4. Reply
    October 16, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    yumm! Perfect for a chilly day like today 🙂

  5. Reply
    October 16, 2012 at 7:27 pm #

    This looks so good! Since being in Moscow, I have become obsessed with borscht. Playing around with its deep red hue is such a fun and inventive idea!

  6. Reply
    October 24, 2012 at 7:32 pm #

    Just made this tonight for company. The soup turned from red to green when one tablespoon of pesto,which surprised us all, don’t know why. Maybe it was because we are used to beet red dominating. The soup was delicious and wonderful on a cold snowy evening.

    As I am allergic to dairy I skipped the cheese and added pine nuts and nutritutional yeast plus a dash of Harissa to the pesto.

    I am recommending your book to all my friends.

    • Reply
      October 25, 2012 at 6:26 am #

      Thanks, Muriel, I’m glad you liked it! And yes, it is wild how stirring in the pesto changes the color, that surprised me too. Your changes sound tasty!

  7. Reply
    December 10, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

    One of the best soups I’ve ever made.. hearty & substantial and perfect for this time of the year! Thanks for this recipe and a great site overall!

    And the pesto was awesome with the pasta too.

  8. Reply
    January 21, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    I’m going to try this ASAP! Sounds fabulous. One question -are the beets cooked or can they be raw?

    • Reply
      January 21, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

      Cooked, for sure… I only really like raw beets *very* finely shredded in a salad. Too tough for my taste.

  9. Reply
    April 20, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

    Thanks for this recipe. The kale pesto was particularly interesting. I don’t like kale by itself, but am putting some in my soups and other dishes. This gives me another way of preparing it.

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