Chef Dave Smart is the chef at Front and Central restaurant in Wolfville and author of the Cooking Smart column in the Kings County Advertiser and Register.
Operating a restaurant in Wolfville has many benefits; with obvious proximity to farms, orchards, vineyards, I find myself drawing a lot of my inspiration on my drive to and from the restaurant from the signs at the farm markets that mark the way. I get a regular and constant reminder of what produce is available from the local farms and I inevitably start thinking up new dishes for the menu.
So on a recent drive in, beans, corn and zucchini were prominently displayed and, with the kitchen garden overflowing with herbs and tomatoes, a Nova Scotian take on a classic minestrone came to mind.
I imagined a rich, herb-infused tomato broth, full of fresh beans, white beans and zucchini, finished with shaved Parmesan and a good healthy drizzle of olive oil. Freshly inspired, I was ready to take on this Italian classic with a definite Nova Scotian twist. And just for fun, I made it a vegetarian version, great for lighter eating in the summer months!
1 cup dry white beans (or 14 oz canned)
2 bay leaves
1 cup (total) green and/or yellow beans - cut into 1" pieces
1 cob of corn - kernels cut off cob
1/2 cup peas
4 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup onion - diced
1/4 cup fennel - diced
1/4 cup celery - diced
1/2 cup carrot- diced
1 tsp chilli pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic - minced
1/2 cup zucchini - diced
4 thyme sprigs
¼ cup white wine
28 oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 freshly chopped basil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Cook white beans in salted water with a bay leaf until desired tenderness is reached, approximately 45 minutes. Drain and reserve.
Steam green and yellow beans until tender. Repeat with corn and peas. Alternatively, blanch the beans, peas, and corn in salted boiling water until tender.
Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a separate pot over medium heat and sweat onion, fennel, celery, and carrot for 5 minutes until the vegetable soften. Add chilli pepper flakes, bay leaf, thyme, and garlic and continue to cook for another 30 seconds. Add zucchini and cook for another two to three minutes.
Add white wine and reduce until the bottom of the pot is almost dry. Add a can of diced tomatoes and vegetable stock.
Add steamed vegetables and cooked beans and simmer gently for three to five minutes.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove bay leaf and thyme sprigs.
To serve, ladle minestrone into bowls and garnish with chopped basil, a drizzle of olive oil, and freshly-grated parmesan cheese.