Every Wednesday, Bon Appétit food editor at large Carla Lalli Music takes over our newsletter with a sleeper-hit recipe from the Test Kitchen vault, a cooking technique she’s really into, or an ingredient she can’t stop thinking about. It gets better: If you sign up for our newsletter, you’ll get this letter before everyone else.
I have learned two important life lessons while staying at home these past several weeks. One is that sometimes it snows in May and you’re not allowed to complain about it. The other is that the only recipes I’m making are ones that are still good, even if I have to change half the ingredients based on availability. These two learnings may seem totally unrelated, but trust me—they’re not. So for those still-chilly spring nights when you can’t always get exactly what you want, make soup, but make it green.
The process for making this springtime minestrone is like any other: You start with a soffritto (a mixture of leeks, celery, and onions) that gets the flavor party going. This is the first opportunity to find substitutes. No leeks? Use more onion, or add scallions. No celery? Do you have fennel? Cilantro or Swiss chard stems? Sure—not the same, but not worth scrapping your plans on their account either. Then you add a mix of pantry things and fresh things: pre-made stock and canned beans, along with leafy greens and fresh peas. No stock? Use water or a bouillon cube. No beans? Use rice (and a couple extra cups of water to compensate). If you don’t have kale, use spinach, Escarole, Swiss chard (again), beet tops, or some cabbage leaves. (If you don’t have cabbage, you are not experiencing quarantine to the fullest. I would be nothing and nowhere without cabbage.) The recipe, blindly optimistic, calls for fresh peas, of which there are none to be had in this house. Frozen though, that’s the ticket! Last week I had green beans, and those could work. I have seen some snow peas around town. And if that fails, any quick-cooking vegetable can join for a dip, even if that’s some chopped-up broccoli florets.
The soup doesn’t simmer for long, but long enough to toast some nuts and blitz a pesto. Andy Baraghani called for pistachios (they’re green, see what he did there?). But literally any nut is invited. You could also try using pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds. His pesto uses both basil and parsley, but whenever there are a blend of tender herbs I think one or the other can party solo. Or introduce a different herb, like the one in your crisper drawer that you were trying to figure out how to use up. Was it cilantro? Mint? Tarragon? Use those!
By the end of this process, you will have a light, brothy, vegetable-laden bowl of soup that you can shave some parm onto and serve with toasted (possibly stale!) bread on the side. When you dollop some aromatic pesto over the hot liquid, those herbs will bloom, and not only will you smell something delicious, you might just feel something, too. Will it be as restorative as a warm breeze on a sunny May day? I can’t promise that. But it’s not all bad. Somewhere, birds are chirping, and we’re here slurping. These aren’t ideal times, but at least this soup promises to be very flexible.