A Visit to Nick’s Italian Cafe in McMinneville, Oregon means a taste of Oregon Wine Country at it’s finest. And a chance to slurp Nick’s famous Minestrone Soup Recipe with Pesto. Hands down the best minestrone I’ve ever had. I guess I didn’t take a picture. Let’s take a look at our visit.
Nick’s Italian Cafe is just about my favorite restaurant on earth. Just something about good times, good food with good friends make for good memories. Nick’s Italian Cafe has been feeding Oregon wine country since 1977 and serves up entrees that compliment the state’s signature wines of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. You can check out the menu by clicking Nick’s website
We visited Nick’s on our recent trip to Oregon Wine Country and the IPNC Conference. We actually planned to arrive one day early just to fit in a visit to Nick.s
We arrived 30 minutes early so that we could enjoy Nick’s backroom experience. Saveur Magazine did an article on Nick’s a few years ago, I took this photo of the article proudly framed and displayed on the wall.
This is the cozy little corner table we selected. I didn’t take any of the main part of the restaurant. Didn’t seem appropriate.
Enjoying our time here before dinner in the main dining area, I ordered an Methven Pinot and Bob ordered a frosty and fresh Prosecco. As we sipped our wine, we watched a group of folks at the next table enjoying Nick’s pizza. Looked wonderful!!!! A smaller less formal menu is available in this back room.
Moving to the front of the restaurant for dinner, we decided on a bottle of 2006 Eyrie Pinot in honor of David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards . Last summer when we dined at Nick’s, David Lett and family were at the table next to ours celebrating his birthday. Lett, one of the pioneers of Oregon Pinot, sadly passed away this past year.
After a toast to celebrate the beginning of this year’s Oregon trip, we began the arduous task of studying the menu and making difficult decisions on what to order. Here’s what we decided on.
First Course: Antipasti
Pea Tip Sformato with Pecorino Romano and Fried Mint. Very adventurous, fabulous flavors and textures. I found this dish very “high brow”.
Pickled Beets with Goat Cheese and Sea Salt. Delicious and fresh, but not over the top.
Spicy Ceci Bean with Squid and Fresh Herbs. DEElicious and bursting with flavors.
Tagliolini with Sea Urchin. We’ve never eaten Sea Urchin, a unique, one of a kind flavor and we especially liked it.
Dungeness Crab and Pine Nut Lasagna. My favorite thing on the table.
Insalate: Mixed Greens with Garlic Rice Wine Vinaigrette, Baby Butter Lettuce with Prosecco Vinaigrette and Herbs
Secondi: Steamed Halibut with Cauliflower Puree, Green Beans and Brown Butter
Lamb Three Ways with Fennel, Arugula, and Castelventrano Olives. Over the top incredible entree.
Everything was interesting, delicious, and adventurous. I’d have to say we voted our favorites as the Dungeness Crab and Pine Nut Lasagna and the Lamb Three Ways. Mmmwaaaa – big kiss to Nick’s, we love, love, love this restaurant.
I love this quote from the owner, Nick Peirano, who thinks that simple connections are at the center of everything. “Cooking is a craft, not an art,” he says. “It’s fuel for the body and, hopefully, for the spirit. It’s like the difference between pottery and fine art. Food should always think of itself as pottery. Architectural food drives me nuts. Food has to recognize it’s serving a basic need.”
Since that article was printed Nick’s daughter, who has been in culinary training in San Francisco, has now taken over the kitchen. I think she’s gradually sneaking in a little bit of that art 😉
During this feast, it was a must that we order Nick’s Italian Cafe Minestrone Soup. The recipe was included in the Saveur article and I made it this weekend. Somewhat of an extravaganza, but well worth the time.
Serve the soup with fresh grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese and a dollop of pest.
Here’s the full recipe:
This soup, a longtime fixture on the prix fixe menu at Nick’s Italian Café in McMinnville, Oregon, is served table side from a tureen and topped with a generous spoonful of fragrant, freshly made pesto. “The heat,” Nick explained, “makes the aroma rise.” After the bowls are filled, the vessel is left on the table so that guests can help themselves to more, if they like.
- FOR THE SOUP:
- 3 carrots peeled and trimmed
- 1 medium yellow onion peeled and
- coarsely chopped
- 1 rib celery coarsely chopped
- 1/2 green bell pepper cored, seeded,
- and coarsely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and coarsely chopped
- Leaves of 1/4 bunch parsley
- 1/2 lb lean salt pork
- 1 14 1/2- oz . can diced tomatoes
- 1/2 cup tomato paste
- 1/4 cup beef stock base
- 1/4 cup dried basil
- 1 Tbs dried oregano
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 lb string beans trimmed and
- cut into 1" pieces
- 1 1/4 cups shelled fresh or frozen peas
- FOR THE PESTO:
- Leaves of 1/2 bunch basil
- Leaves of 1/2 bunch parsley
- 1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
- 1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano
- 1 tsp pine nuts
- 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the soup: Coarsely chop 1 of the carrots and put into a food processor. Add onions, celery, peppers, and garlic, pulse until vegetables are finely chopped, then transfer to a large heavy-bottomed pot. Add parsley, salt pork, and 3 quarts water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 6 hours.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer salt pork to a food processor, then process until fat liquefies and meat turns into a paste, about 30 seconds. Pass salt pork through a sieve back into pot, using a rubber spatula to press as much paste through the sieve as possible. Skim off and discard fat from broth. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, beef stock base, basil, and oregano to pot. Season to taste with 1 tsp. pepper and simmer over medium-low heat, covered, for 2 hours.
Add 4 cups water to pot, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, thinly slice remaining carrots crosswise, then add to pot. Add green beans and peas, reduce heat to medium, and simmer soup, partially covered, until carrots, beans, and peas are soft, about 30 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
For the pesto: Put basil, parsley, parmigiano-reggiano, pecorino romano, pine nuts, and oil into a food processor and process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Put soup into a warm tureen, if you like, and spoon pesto into soup. Serve soup in warm bowls garnished with some freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano and pecorino romano, if you like.
Interested in the rest of our trip to Oregon’s International Pinot Noir Conference? Here are my posts about the trip.
Nick’s Italian Cafe Famous Minestrone Soup Recipe …It’s What’s For Dinner