There's nothing like cultivating an allotment for encouraging creativity in the kitchen. But this time of year, when the last courgette has been picked, onions and potatoes lie snuggled dry in hessian sacks and the rain hangs heavy on spent drooping beanstalks, is the perfect time to mix it up. This is my minestrone- infinitely variable depending on what is available. The point is to use as much home-grown produce as possible. The buzz you get from serving up 6 months of tender loving care in a bowl makes all that weeding well worth the effort.
The ingredients below represent what went into the soup pictured but are a guide only. Other vegetables can be substituted. Look for a balance of ingredients so that no one vegetable dominates. This is a soup which tastes even better a day or two after making, so I always aim for a large panful.
Allotment Minestrone (makes around 3-4 litres)
*250-300g dried Borlotti beans (or other dried beans), soaked overnight and simmered until cooked (boil vigorously for first 10 minutes)
2 tblsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 medium leeks, chopped in half and sliced
3-4 medium carrots, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
2 medium potatoes, diced
2 medium courgettes, diced
8 fresh skinned tomatoes, chopped (or 2 x 400g tins tomatoes, chopped)
6-8 leaves of Cavolo Nero, de-veined and sliced
Tip: The discarded rind from a chunk of parmesan adds depth to the soup but remove before serving.
To serve: Pesto or basil & freshly grated parmesan
Gently heat the oil in a large pan. Add onions, garlic, carrots, celery and cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add potatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add courgettes, tomatoes, the cooked Borlotti beans and enough cold water to well cover the vegetables. Bring to the boil and add the Cavolo Nero (and the parmesan rind if using), salt and pepper. Simmer for about 20 minutes until vegetables are yielding but still have a little bite. Check the seasoning. Allow to cool a little before serving with pesto or basil and freshly grated parmesan.
*I used half home-grown borlotti beans which I had dried the previous year and half shop bought. It was very noticeable that the shop-bought ones took far longer to cook (2 hours) so don't believe the timings printed on the packet.