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Bacon and Barley Minestrone


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To cook on the stove top : Prep time = 20 minutes. Cook time = 1.5-2 hours
To cook in a crock pot : Prep time = 20 minutes. Cook time = 6-7 hours on High

1 large leek, white part only
2 carrots, peeled and grated
1 large parsnip, peeled and grated
2 stalks celery, stringy skin peeled off
½ cup of barley, rinsed well
1 Meat Cuisine Bacon hock
2 x 250g Meat Cuisine fresh chicken stock
750ml hot water
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes in juice
2 sprigs rosemary, left whole
3-4 fresh or 2 dried bay leaves
100g round green beans, finely sliced or 100g baby spinach leaves
A little chopped parsley or fresh basil and freshly grated parmesan to serve


1. Cut leek in half and remove any tough green leaves. Cut in half lengthways then cut each half to shorten it. Cut each quarter of leek into 4 even lengths then finely slice and place in a colander. Repeat until all leek is finely sliced. Rinse the leek well under a running tap to remove any dirt that is trapped between the leaves. Shake dry.
Grate carrots coarsely and parsnip, add to the colander. Cut each celery stick into 4 even lengths then slice finely into a small dice. Add to colander of vegetables. Toss the vegetables lightly with your hands and mix well. Add to large saucepan or pre warmed crock pot.

2. Add rinsed barley to the vegetables and mix through. Place the bacon hock on top of the vegetables. Pour over the chicken stock and hot water. Spread the chopped tomato evenly on the top. Add fresh herbs.
Cover and slowly bring to the boil. Or turn onto high in a crock pot or slow cooker and leave to cook for 6-7 hours.

3. When the soup has come to the boil, give it a stir then turn it down to a slow simmer and leave to cook covered for 1.5 hours. Check the soup occasionally and turn the bacon hock to ensure even cooking.
If you are using gas to cook on then it is often hard to keep a ‘slow simmer’. I recommend using a simmer mat which you can buy at your local hardware store. It is an aluminum disc that sits between the gas and the saucepan and distributes the heat more evenly and slowly.
 
4. After 1.5 hours on the stove top check the barley is tender. Remove the rosemary twigs and bay leaves. Add the finely chopped beans, return the lid. Bring back to a simmer and cook for a further 15-20 minutes. For a crock pot the soup will be ready after 6 ½ -7 hours. You can add the beans and pasta and allow it to cook for a further 30-40 minutes.

5. Just before serving remove the bacon hock and peel away the thick skin. Flake away the meat with you hands. Chop it roughly and add back to the soup pot or crock If the soup is a little thick after adding back the chopped ham then thin it down with a little extra hot chicken stock or boiling water. Check the soups flavour and add a little salt and pepper as needed.

6. Ladle the minestrone into warmed bowls and serve with toasted bread and butter or fresh chewy bread rolls. Sprinkle a little chopped parsley into each bowl and a couple of teaspoons of grated parmesan to serve.




Tips:
* You can substitute 2 large onions for the leek. Cut into a fine dice to use.

* To freeze the soup to enjoy for a weekend lunch or quick evening meal allow it to cool down completely. Transfer into plastic lidded containers. Allow approximately 2 large ladles of soup per person. Write the quantity of serves and date then freeze. It will be fine for up to 3 months in the freezer.

* Bacon or ham hocks are interchangeable in this recipe. You could also use four large chicken drumsticks. 2-3 Lamb shanks would also make a tasty soup.

* Fresh chicken stock is now easy to buy and will add extra flavour and nutrition to your soup. If you like to make chicken stock and have an excess then use just chicken stock in the recipe in place of water.


*Barley is an ancient cereal grain and sold mainly as polished or pearl barley. It is slow to cook and usually takes around an hour. It provides good thickening for soups and stews and cooks to a chewy pasta like consistency. Barley will give great flavour to a soup as well as being great for your health and providing a good source of fibre.
If you do not have barley on hand you could also use Arborio rice and this would give a similar result.

Recipe created by Tracey Sunderland © 29-06-07
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