This wonderful Sardinian minestrone soup was put in the spotlight on the recent Blue Zone documentary series. This version of an Italian minestrone soup is full of a variety of beans and vegetables for a tasty, hearty soup that is so satisfying. This Sardinian minestrone recipe makes enough for lunch or dinner for a week and is such a tasty way of eating lots of vegetables and beans!
I recently watched some of the Blue Zone documentary as a few friends recommended it to me. Basically the host Dan Buettner visits 5 areas in the world (Sardinia in Italy; Okinawa in Japan; Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica; Ikaria in Greece and Loma Linda in California) with the longest living populations. A lot of it had to do with food and lifestyle - a lot of them ate a lot of vegetables and had primarily a vegetarian diet. In Sardinia, their diet was made up of whole-grain bread, beans, home grown garden vegetables and fruit with a small amount of meat, around 5%. They're relatively culturally isolated so they tend to cook and eat traditional foods. They also pickle and dry the food that is in season to make it last longer.
There's nothing that unusual about these things but Sardinians also have a rich culture of "famine foods" like acorn bread that is made using clay, cheese ripened in goat's fourth stomach, Pane Carasau that is a sourdough crispbread with a long shelf life lasting for months and soft cheese with worms which they still make today. Instead of meat as a regular item it is used in celebratory occasions or to flavour dishes. They obtain calories using goat’s and sheep’s milk products like cheese or milk and wholegrains. If you're interested this article is really interesting reading and delves deeper into why Sardinia is a blue zone.
In the Sardinian episode the Melis family eats a vegetarian minestrone soup every day and it is made up of what is local and seasonal at the time. There are no exotic flavours to the simple soup. In winter time they may add some pig skin to flavour the soup but mostly it is vegetarian. The minestrone is very inexpensive to make thanks to the bulk of it being made up of beans. The beans are said to be perhaps one of the keys to longevity and in the doco they purport that adding a cup of beans to your diet a day adds a couple of years to one's life expectancy whether that may be because of the nutritional properties or that they are eating them instead of meat.
There are a lot of versions of Sardinian minestrone around but most start with is a soffritto (onion, celery and carrot) and then layers vegetables, beans and broth. I used chicken broth but feel free to use your favourite broth or stock. At the end some fregola or pearl barley is added to thicken the soup (which at this point is like a chunky stew). I love chilli so I added a couple of small chillies to the soup too. It is finished off with some chopped parsley and pecorino cheese grated on top. I also used tinned beans but you can use dried beans that have been soaked. For every 400g or 14ozs of tinned beans use 1/2 cup of dried beans and soak them overnight beforehand. You will also need to increase the cooking time to 1 hour.
What I loved about this dish was that it was not only delicious but very filling - all I needed was a small bowl for lunch. Admittedly I eat a lot of salad but that is different in that leaves are light and you can eat a big bowl of them with some protein. This Sardinian minestrone was completely different. I felt full after a small bowl and couldn't eat a lot more. It is a lot of beans and vegetables so it gives your digestive system a workout; I'd recommend having it for one meal a day but having it in the fridge made it so easy to grab lunch to go (it was also tasty cold on really hot days).
Every time I gave it to Mr NQN for lunch his face would light up and he would say, "I'm going to live forever!". We always say that we want to leave this earth together, preferably holding hands and falling asleep in bed but having said our goodbyes to everyone (ok not likely but you never know). "You know I'm checking out at 80 right?" I said to him. I plan to leave this earth when my quality of life isn't as good and I can't enjoy travelling. Although we may keep eating this soup and that might mean that my 80 year old exit may change!
So tell me Dear Reader, have you watched the Blue Zone doco? Do you have any longevity tips? I'd love to hear yours!