Minestrone in 20 Minutes

Even if you love cooking big, elaborate recipes that take all day to put together, most weekdays after work really all you want is a magic recipe that’s ready as soon as possible, is hearty and filling and at least vaguely healthy. It also helps if it’s a recipe that you can vary depending what you have in your cupboards (you might have noticed that this is my default position when cooking – if I ever write a recipe book it will be called Just Throw Everything You Have In, It Will Be Fine).

Well, this minestrone ticks all of those boxes. And once you make it a few times you can basically get it done and dusted and have a big ol’ pot of soup ready in 20 minutes. Joy! The recipe below is a base that will make you an awesome soup on its own, but then after we will talk about VARIATIONS.

Ingredients

  • 1 litre vegetable stock (make your own, use the premade stuff, throw some stock powder into a litre of water, whatever is your jam)
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 cup dried pasta (I use ditalini, but any small pasta shape works well)
  • 1 cup frozen mixed vegetables* (I use one that has peas, carrot, green beans, corn kernels and potato)
  • 300g can mixed beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tsp dried Italian herb mix (I use one that’s a mix of basil, oregano and chilli)

Put the stock in a big soup pot and pour in the can of chopped tomatoes, and bring to the boil on the stove. Turn down to simmer, add the pasta and cook for 6 minutes, occasionally stirring. Then add the frozen vegetables, beans and herbs, and simmer until the pasta is tender, again occasionally stirring. DONE!

What else can you throw in it:

– I like the mixed beans for legume variety, but you can go traditional and use cannellini or another type of white bean. Hell, go nuts and throw in chickpeas or lentils instead, I reckon they’d work just grand and then you’d have mutant minestrone, which could only be an Experience.

– You can stir through a handful of baby spinach leaves, or any leafy green, a few minutes before serving for a bit of extra colour and iron.

– You could also top each serving with a few curls of parmesan cheese if that’s your fancy.

This has been another edition of Hayley Doesn’t Want You To Freak Out In The Kitchen, This Cooking Lark Is Easy I Promise.

* I will not be having with any snarky, snobbish comments directed at the use of frozen vegetables, much as I will not brook negative comments about pre-made sauces, stocks, using canned soups and whatnot as recipe bases, etc etc. It is nasty and it is classist and anyone wanting to turn their noses up can take a HIKE.

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Shanghai Dragon Dumpling House

When you work in the one area for an extended period of time, sometimes your eat out lunches fall into a repetitive rut. I’d certainly got to the point in late December where any day where I accidentally forgot to bring along my prepared lunch resulted in sad trundlings around the streets surrounding the office, attempting to find sustenance that wasn’t comprised of 7/11 items (don’t pretend you also don’t succumb occasionally to sad 7/11 lunches, I see through your HOUSE OF LIES).

Luckily my workmate and keen foodie Kate had been keeping her eyes peeled, and stumbled across a brand new place in which to get everyone’s favourite meal, ENDLESS DUMPLINGS. Shanghai Dragon Dumpling House is in a slim shop on Russell Street and, like most of the cheap and cheerful dumpling places that this city is so fortunately endowed with, decor is basic but everything is clean and shiny. The menu isn’t overly burdened with vegetarian options, but on this day all I was after was a vegetable dumpling soup, and this was easily attainable.

The soup comes not only with dumplings but with handmade strands of thick, white noodles, which are smooth and soft with the teeniest bite to them. The soup broth isn’t terribly flavoured, but there’s many a condiment set out on each table so that you may create you own broth flavour explosion. I swirled about a lot of soy sauce, vinegar and a teeny spoonful of chilli oil and that did nicely for me. The dumplings themselves were fat and almost spherical, and once you bit into them they were bursting with lots of spinachy greenery, little diced cubes of carrot and other unidentifiable vegetables, and plentiful mushrooms. Very solid and pleasing dumplings indeed.

I was quickly able to back up this visit with a take-out order the following week with some film programming buds of mine. We ordered vegetarian dumplings in both their steamed and fried versions, and they were as fat and vegie-filled as ever. The steamed ones did get a little stodgy after a few, but the fried ones were piping hot and deliciously crunchy, as most fried things are.

I’m certainly never going to turn my nose up at another agreeable place to enjoy dumplings at. What I am really curious about, though, is the fact that the menu at Shanghai Dragon lists vegetarian xiao long bao. Holy of holies! Whether this just means that these are veg-filled dumplings containing the standard gelatinous pork broth of the traditional xiao long bao, or whether it is indeed a vegetarian rendering of the most popular dumpling in town is something that I will be investigating most keenly on my next visit.

Shanghai Dragon Dumpling House

163 Russell Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9078 7637

Slowpoke

Slowpoke has maybe the tiniest, most serene courtyard in Melbourne. The thin, long cafe meanders along its length until you reach the wee outdoor pocket right up the back, where four two-seater tables are collected underneath a fig tree canopy that provides quiet respite from the bustle of Brunswick Street outside. It was certainly an oasis of calm for Mel and I, having trooped across greater Collingwood and Fitzroy in search of an alternative brunching venue when our first choice fell victim to Xmas holiday opening hours and was lamentably closed.

There is nothing lamentable about Slowpoke, however, and we felt very fortunate to have stumbled across it. It’s very aesthetically pleasing,  mainly constructed out of what appears to be recycled and re-appropriated timber, making for a rather cosy atmosphere with a few nooks and crannies to hide yourself away in. Which brings me back to that courtyard, at the time not only shaded by big leafed fig trees, but crawling with vines and spilling forth with bountiful flowering plants like nasturtiums. Just lovely on a clear, warm day.

Everything on the tightly compact menu is centred around bread (apart from a bircher muesli), so I hope you like bread. Despite the fact that I am quite adept at making my own dippy eggs, it’s always nice when someone else makes a favourite dish, so I went with the soft boiled eggs with toast, with an extra side of avocado. The toast soldiers were large slices of crusty, lightly oiled bread, and rather too large for dipping, so I had to content myself with spreading the gooey egg yolk over it. Good proper gooey egg yolks forgive too large bread sins anyway. The avocado had been sliced and simply dressed with black pepper, pink salt and a squeeze of lime, and was fresh and lovely on its own, let alone paired with the crunchy toast.

Melly had the smashed avocado, a very generous slab of crusty bread covered in bright green smushed avocado flecked with pieces of fresh chilli. Simple yet hearty, she seemed to be very well pleased with it.

The flat white I had alongside my eggs was blisteringly strong (cue bug eyes for the rest of the afternoon), but didn’t bring along bitterness with the strength and was smoothly pleasant. It would have been unwise for my already terrible sleep patterns to have had a second, though, so instead I followed it up with a rooibos tea with lots of lovely floral-noted honey.

While I could see myself eventually feeling constrained by the limited menu of ALL THE BREAD PRODUCTS, Slowpoke is so enjoyable a spot to hang out in that I can see it becoming a handy meet up place for coffee and chats. The staff are friendly, and graciously put up with Mel and I spending over two hours taking up prime courtyard space talking about impending holiday times. Speaking of Xmas, I think it is appropriate to finish this post with Mel’s most wonderful present to me, an ornament that I have christened “It’s A Very Mario Balotelli Christmas.”

itsaverymariobalotellichristmas

Slowpoke

157 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9942 7813

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