Spring Minestrone with Caramelized Garlic Broth

updated May 29, 2020
Vibrant Spring Minestrone

This light, bright soup is lemony, hearty, and totally verdant, even though it’s made mostly from long-lasting storage veg like fennel and onions and bolstered by pantry and freezer regulars.

Serves4

Prep15 minutes

Cook1 hour

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Large pot of spring minestrone soup
Credit: Jesse Szewczyk

It’s a strange spring, in more ways than one. While parts of the country are experiencing late-season snow, many areas are being blessed with warm, sunshine-filled days. Here in Brooklyn, light jackets are coming off the bench to relieve their heavier counterparts, windows are being cracked open, and trees are beginning to bud. One of the cardinal rules of food writing is don’t lead with the weather, but here I am doing it, in part because I find the weather so affecting and in part because this is one of my favorite times of the year to eat: The mood (especially this year, in these times) is still for comfort, while the array at the market is getting greener and greener and sweeter and sweeter. 

No matter the exact forecast of where you are, this light, bright soup is precisely what’s called for. It’s lemony, hearty, and totally verdant, even though it’s made mostly from long-lasting storage veg like fennel and onions and bolstered by pantry and freezer regulars (canned white beans, frozen peas). It’s even vegan, provided you skip the optional Parmesan grated over the top.

Credit: Jesse Szewczyk

Building a Quick-Cooking Vegetable Broth with Deep, Rich Flavor

You’ll begin by caramelizing wedges of onion and halved heads of garlic in a generous pool of olive oil, which deepens the simple broth’s flavor and gives it a golden color to match. Then, toss in fennel stalks and leek greens, the trimmings of the vegetables that will give the soup texture and body later on (nothing goes to waste here.) While the broth simmers, soften sliced ribbons of fennel and leek whites in another pot, and infuse them with lemon zest (save the lemon and serve it, sliced into wedges, alongside steamy bowls of the soup). White beans and green peas add heft and sweetness, while chopped fennel fronds brings a dose of aromatic green.

My favorite way to serve this is with a big, scraggly handful of juicy pea shoots dropped into the soup bowls, where they wilt and tangle with everything else, and with a long pour of olive oil and a shocking amount of black pepper. As with any soup, this one is open to interpretation and especially to whatever greens you love, like baby spinach or arugula or chopped parsley. Or for something luxurious, fry thick pieces of good bread in olive oil, then rub the hot toast with a garlic clove, plop a slice down in everyone’s bowl, and ladle the soup over it.

Vibrant Spring Minestrone

This light, bright soup is lemony, hearty, and totally verdant, even though it’s made mostly from long-lasting storage veg like fennel and onions and bolstered by pantry and freezer regulars.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 1 hour

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 head

    garlic

  • 1

    medium yellow onion

  • 1

    medium fennel bulb with fronds

  • 2

    medium or 4 small leeks

  • 6 tablespoons

    extra-virgin olive oil, divided

  • 1

    bay leaf

  • 8 cups

    water

  • 2 3/4 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided

  • 1

    medium lemon

  • 1 (15-ounce) can

    white beans, such as cannellini or Great Northern

  • 1 cup

    fresh or frozen green peas

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • Large handful pea shoots, for serving (optional)

  • Freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Halve 1 head garlic down its equator to expose all the cloves. Quarter 1 medium yellow onion (do not peel). Coarsely chop 1/4 cup fennel fronds. Quarter 1 fennel bulb, then cut the core out of each piece. Set aside the core and the outermost layer of each piece. Thinly slice the remaining fennel.

  2. Coarsely chop the dark green parts from 2 medium or 4 small leeks until you have 2 cups, then rinse thoroughly. Halve the light green and white parts of the leeks lengthwise, then slice crosswise into 1/2-inch wide half-moons. Place in a medium bowl, cover with cool water, and swish vigorously with your hands to loosen any dirt; set aside.

  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and onion pieces cut-side down and cook until dark golden brown, flipping the onion halfway through so that it browns on both cut sides, about 5 minutes total. Add the fennel core and outer layer, the dark green leek parts, 1 bay leaf, and 8 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat.

  4. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, then cover partially, leaving a crack for steam to escape. Simmer until the broth is browned and fragrant, 30 to 40 minutes. Meanwhile, finely grate the zest of 1 medium lemon, then cut the lemon into wedges. Drain and rinse 1 can white beans. Heat the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium heat until shimmering. When it shimmers, add the sliced fennel and cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Carefully lift the light green and white parts of the leeks from the water, being careful to leave the grit in the bottom of the bowl, and add them to the pot. Add the lemon zest and 1 teaspoon kosher salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are soft, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.

  5. When the broth is ready, strain through a fine-mesh strainer set over the pot of leeks; discard the solids in the strainer. Add the beans and remaining 1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt to the soup, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook 10 minutes. Add 1 cup green peas and simmer for 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in the fennel fronds.

  6. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and season generously with freshly ground black pepper. Top with a small handful of pea shoots and grated Pecorino cheese, if using. Serve with the lemon wedges.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: This soup can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated.

Storage: This soup keeps, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.