Growing up in LA, I never experienced grocery shopping (or anything else, really) sans car. Because it is so vast and the public transportation so atrocious, you pretty much have to own an automobile in order to get anywhere. You don’t take the bus unless you are extremely poor, extremely masochistic, or have had an extremely big fight with your mother and, to punish you, she has refused to drive you to your high school, which is 45 minutes away by car, or, I kid not, 4 hours by bus.
But I digress.
I will never forget the first time I went grocery shopping car-free. My parents had dropped me off at my Kresge apartment on the UC Santa Cruz campus one September, and when the leftovers had dwindled, it came time to stock the pantry. I took the bus to a large grocery chain in town, and filled a shopping cart to the brim: large bottles of olive oil and vinegar, a jug of milk, orange juice, sacks of sugar and flour, bread, yogurt, mac and cheese, cans of soup, and a houseplant, whom my housemates would name ‘Angel’. I wheeled my four bulging grocery bags and Angel to the bus stop just outside the parking lot and waited. When the packed bus arrived, I hefted my purchases up in shifts, while the over-crowded passengers, and the driver, glared on. I stood at the front, blocking the entrance but unable to make my way to the back with my cargo, sweating profusely, clutching the germ-infested bar. As the bus twisted and turned up to campus, Angel toppled over, spilling soil across the floor.
At my stop, a kindly fellow Kresge-dweller, a sophomore who had likely experienced her first car-less shopping trip the previous year, grabbed two of my bags and walked me home; otherwise, I don’t know what I would have done.
I wish I could say that after that point, I downsized my shopping list, invested in a large backpack and some canvas bags, and only shopped at the uber-healthy on-campus grocery co-op. But no, I merely got my super-senior neighbor to drive me and my housemates into town on shopping trips. (As a bonus, he would buy us booze, too!)
While my college days are far behind me, I now live in San Francisco, where the line for Rainbow‘s parking lot can snake around the corner and into oncoming traffic. The twenty-minute return-trip culminates in a long, steep hill. One breaks a pleasant sweat on a normal day, but when lugging 20 pounds of groceries on one’s back, the trip can become downright onerous.
Hence, the luxury-status of heavy groceries: glass-bottled Strauss milk, wine and beer, large amounts of flour and sugar, canned beans, bottled drinks, containers of vegetable stock or ready-made soup.
Thankfully, I can have my soup and eat it, too, thanks to my soup-guru (also pancake, eggplant parmesan and poppyseed cake maven and general, all around idol) and fellow UCSC Alumna Deborah Madison, whose delectable vegetable soups make stocks of their own – just add water! I had the good fortune to pick up a copy of Local Flavors on campus during my senior year, and have been in love with her solid recipes, comforting prose and effortless food-styling (which she does herself) ever since. Her book on vegetable soups, my soup bible, is no exception.
With carrots, celery, parsley, kale, herbs and alliums in our box, this soup needed only small quantities of dried beans and grains from the store, and a can of diced tomatoes, to become a giant pot of several day’s worth of sustenance. Packed with creamy beans, chewy farro, and silky kale, this soup comprises the ideal healthy comfort food for a chilly winter’s day or night. Top it with a grating of parmesan of a whorl of parsley pesto, sop up the flavorful broth with a crust of bread, and you will have yourself one wholly satisfying meal. This soup reminds me of the cans of minestrone my dad used to heat up when I was a kid, only of course, much, much better.
I used my favorite beans, Rancho Gordo’s Steuben Yellow Eyes, which are fresh-dried (meaning less than a year old, as opposed to other dried beans, which can be up to 5 years old) thus they cook up quickly. Stunning when dried, the cooked beans lose the striking contrast of the mustard-yellow-on-ecru color scheme, but their voluptuous texture more than makes up for that fact. The only thing I would change about this recipe would be to add the kale toward the end so that it retains some green, rather than with the farro, which needs a lengthy cooking and leaves you with dingy-looking, though delicious, kale.
I hope this hearty soup gives you the energy you need for a vigorous and possible resolution-related hike or a dance or yoga class. Or perhaps a trek to your local co-op, which, walk-assured, will be burdened by neither heavy cans of soup nor stock.
White Bean, Kale and Farro Minestra with Parsley Pesto
Adapted (barely) from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Soups
Makes 3 quarts, or 8 hearty servings
Plan this a day ahead so that you have time to soak the beans and farro overnight.
1 cup white beans (such as Steuben Yellow Eye, canellini, navy, or other white beans), soaked overnight
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
rind of parmesan (optional)
a sprig of sage
1 bay leaf
4 parsley branches
10 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced (2 cups)
2 medium carrots, diced (1 cup)
3 celery ribs, diced (1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, or 2 teaspoons fresh
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 teaspoon fresh
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
splash red or white wine
3/4 cup farro, soaked for at least one hour, or overnight
1 teaspoon salt
14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice
1 bunch black kale, stems removed, leaves shredded
In a large soup pot or dutch oven, combine the drained beans, garlic, parmesan, herbs and 10 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until almost tender, about 45 minutes. Add the salt and continue cooking until the beans are tender, about another half hour. Drain the beans, reserving the broth, and pull out the herbs and parmesan and discard.
In a large soup pot or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the onion, carrot, celery, herbs and garlic and saute until golden and soft, 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, lowering the heat as needed. Mash in the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes, stirring, then splash in the wine. Drain the farro and add, along with the salt, the tomatoes and their juice, and the beans and their liquid. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook until the farro is mostly tender, 15 – 20 minutes. Add the kale, and simmer gently until the farro and kale are soft, another 15 minutes or so. Taste for salt, and add more water if necessary; farro is a thirsty grain and will drink up liquid.
Serve with a swirl of parsley pesto, below, or a simple grating of parmesan, drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of chopped parsley. The soup keeps well for up to a week in the fridge, or frozen for up to several months.
leaves from 1 large bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 cup lightly packed grated parmesan
1/4 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
1/4 cup olive oil
Place the parsley leaves, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Blend until fairly smooth. Pour in the olive oil, and blend until smoother. Taste for salt, and add more oil of you want a thinner consistency. Store in a jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, or freeze for up to several months.