Tuesday 2nd March 2021
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Serves 4
Preparation time: 30 Minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour

1 medium onion – chopped
1/3 whole bunch of celery – chopped
3 medium carrots – chopped
1/2 fennel bulb – chopped
3 garlic gloves – finely chopped
Fresh herbs – I used rosemary, thyme and oregano
2 fresh tomatoes – chopped
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1/2 cabbage – chopped
1 bunch rainbow chard – chopped
100g frozen peas
1L good quality veg stock
50g pearl barley
100g strong cheddar cheese – finely grated

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Recipe by Dominic Franks

If truth be told, I’m quite a lazy cook. I think, like many of us, I tend to circumnavigate around my favourite dishes, repeating them frequently but changing them up now and again with a peculiar twist, depending on the season and what I have in the fridge.

If something works and is tasty and gets the thumbs up from the family and friends then it tends to become a kitchen staple. I guess with our hectic lifestyles we all like to rely on what we know will deliver the goods rather than spend precious time making something that doesn’t quite hit the spot. Experimentation is all well and good as long as it tastes delicious… and this is why, time and again, I come back to the humble minestrone soup. It’s actually one of the easiest dishes to make but ridiculously tasty and you can literally use any old veg you have in your fridge. Plus if you’re not a fan of pasta, you can swap out the macaroni for any of your favourite starches; potato or rice, or pearl barley like I’ve done here.

Minestrone also makes for a wonderful autumnal dish that, if you make a large enough vat, will feed the hoards come Bonfire Night. It can sit on a low heat and bubble away until the family are ready to tuck in.

The parmesan dumplettes are a bonus that fall into the previously mentioned ‘peculiar twist’ category. They came to me in a flash of inspiration as I wanted to make the dish more of a main course meal than just a starter.

The parmesan complements the Italian origins of the soup gloriously, each one the perfect bitesize treat!

Melt a large nob of butter and some olive oil in your pan over a medium heat. Add the onions, fennel, celery and carrots, stir well and gently sauté for roughly 8 minutes.

Add the herbs and garlic and sauté again for another couple of minutes until it all begins to soften.

Next, add the chopped fresh tomatoes and the stalks of the rainbow chard, stir again, place the lid on and let all the veg sweat for at least five minutes or until the veg are soft.

Now add the stock and the rest of the veg and pearl barley and let the soup simmer very gently with the lid on for at least an hour, then turn off the heat and stir in the cheese. Let the soup stand to cool – at least an hour, 4 hours is good, overnight is best. There’s something miraculous about the chemisty of allowing the dish to cool and be reheated that will make it taste phenomenal.

To make the dumplings, place all the ingredients into a large bowl and rub them together, add enough cold water to bring it all together into a ball of dough. Divide it into small bitesize balls and set aside.

Once you’re ready to serve, heat the soup to a gentle bubble, then add the dumplettes to the top, place the lid on and let the whole pot sit for 15 min before placing under the grill for 5 min… it should be hot but not steaming when people eat it.

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