Minestrone Soup with Lentils And Brown Rice Using a pressure cooker to make minestrone concentrates the flavor
Minestrone Soup with Lentils & Brown Rice

One of the questions guests often ask chefs about the way we cook is how we create flavors that are so vivid and intense. Well-cooked food does, indeed, often deliver bright, clearly focused tastes in every bite or spoonful.

Professional cooks know many ways to make this happen -- from starting with the best-quality ingredients to browning foods properly, from reducing liquids for more concentrated flavor to adding just the right amounts and kinds of seasonings. In the recipes I share, I'll often be very specific about measurements and timing and describing how things should look or taste to help you make sure you get the flavors just right.

One secret some chefs use for intensifying flavors can actually be found on the counters or shelves of many home kitchens: a pressure cooker. Cooking quickly under high pressure magically concentrates the flavors of ingredients, producing memorable tastes in just minutes.

When I worked as a young chef in the restaurant of the famous hotel Oustau de Baumaniere in the south of France, we would use a pressure cooker if one of our guests requested vegetable soup late at night. Those soups were so delicious that I still remember them to this day. (Pressure cookers serve another purpose in high-altitude restaurants, where the lighter air pressure makes it impossible to bring water to a boil. At Spago at the Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch in Vail, Colo., we use pressure cookers frequently for dishes requiring simmering.)

All this brings me to the topic of minestrone, Italy's great vegetable soup. I've found again and again that when I make minestrone in a pressure cooker it turns out incredibly delicious. Plus, there's the bonus that the soup easily takes less than half the time to cook than it does on top of the stove.

So, on a cold winter evening when you suddenly feel the need for a comforting soup, you can simply and quickly put together my pressure-cooker minestrone. The version I share here gains extra heartiness from brown rice and lentils in place of the pasta many people associate with minestrone. Feel free to substitute onions for the leeks and to swap out the other fresh vegetables for whatever fresh favorites you find in your market. Just be sure to cut the vegetables into pieces of uniform size, so they cook evenly.

Thanks to the way the pressure cooker intensifies flavors and keeps them all locked inside the pot, you don't even need broth for the soup. Fresh water will do fine, though you shouldn't hesitate to use canned vegetable or chicken broth if you prefer.

Add some crusty bread and you have a satisfying, easy dinner ready to put on the table any night of the week.

Minestrone With Lentils & Brown Rice Recipe

Serves 6 to 8

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 medium organic leeks, white parts only, halved lengthwise, thoroughly rinsed, and chopped

6 garlic cloves, chopped

7 cups cold water, organic vegetable broth, or organic chicken broth

1 (14-ounce) can peeled and crushed tomatoes

1/3 cup uncooked brown rice

1/3 cup dried dark green Puy-style lentils

1-1/2 cups chopped green or Savoy cabbage

2 medium organic carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 organic celery stalks, chopped

1 large bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Chopped fresh parsley, basil, or chives, for garnish

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish


Pressure cooker instructions:

Heat a large pressure cooker over medium heat. Add the oil and leeks and saute until the leeks begin to soften and smell fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for a few seconds.

Stir in the water or broth, canned tomatoes, brown rice, lentils, cabbage, carrots, celery, bay leaf, thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, secure the lid, and bring the pressure cooker to high pressure.

When high pressure has been reached, turn the heat to low and set a timer for 20 minutes.

When the cooking time is up, turn off the heat and release the pressure, following the manufacturer's instructions. Carefully remove the lid.

The brown rice and the lentils should be tender. Continue simmering, uncovered, until the soup is thick but still fairly fluid, about 10 minutes longer. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

Ladle the soup into serving bowls and garnish each with some chopped fresh herbs and a spoonful of grated Parmesan.


Stovetop instructions:

Heat the oil in a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and saute, stirring frequently, until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and continue sauteing, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Stir in the water or broth, canned tomatoes, brown rice, lentils, cabbage, carrots, celery, bay leaf, thyme, salt, and pepper. Raise the heat and bring to a boil; then, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently for 1 hour.

Adjust the seasonings to taste. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and garnish with fresh herbs and Parmesan.


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Minestrone Soup with Lentils And Brown Rice - Wolfgang Puck Recipes

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