Another classic of the huge Italian selection of winter (and summer!) soups is Minestrone.
The versatility of this recipe is clear from the first spoon: a mix of vegetables, preferably seasonal, chopped small and put to simmer on the stove for a long time. The choice of the veggies mix is left to your imagination, to the availability and to the season. There are so many recipes of Minestrone from Northern to Southern Italy that whatever you do has probably already been tested somewhere.
It is easy to imagine how people who used to have a vegetable garden all year long started putting together what was available to feed the family, accompanying the soup with toasted bread and a piece of cheese to make a great, balanced dinner.
There are just a few elements that are a must – but this is my personal selection: first, the “soffritto”. Onion, carrots, and celery in equal quantities, chopped finely and let it fry gently in a veil of EV Olive oil. Second, Swiss chard: the taste of the broth of this green leaf is superior to any other, and so typical of minestrone – you can’t miss it. Third, zucchini: not very flavorful maybe, but always there. Finally: beans, a good source of proteins. The variety used in Italy is called “borlotti”, which are hard to find in the US, either dry or canned. It can be substituted with cannellini beans or pinto beans.
To this base you can add whatever vegetable you like; spinach, cabbage, kale, green beans, English peas, fava beans, snow peas, squash – you name it. The only ones that do not work well in my opinion are peppers and eggplant. I also like to keep mushrooms away from minestrone, as it does not fit in the general taste of this soup, but you should find out by yourself.
For the anecdote, the word “minestrone” is also used in the Italian language to indicate a mix of things that have nothing or little in common. For example, people could say of a political program that it is a minestrone of projects to make everyone happy. So, creativity is the rule for this soup!
The benefits of eating such a bounty of veggies are clear. Maybe some vitamins will be lost during the cooking process, but all in all it is still a flavorful, fulfilling and healthy dish. Some ingredients may even be added frozen, as you need small quantities of each.
In Italy at the end of the cooking time we often add some pasta. It will make the soup even thicker and add some carbs for a complete meal.
For 4-6 Servings
1 large onion
2 small carrots
2 celery stalks
1 bunch of chard, red or white
1&1/2 cups cooked Borlotti beans (or Pinto, or Cannellini)
1 cup chickpeas
½ cabbage head
1 russet potato
1 bunch of Kale
7-8 cherry tomatoes
½ cup of tomato puree (or more)
2-3 garlic cloves
2 broccoli crowns
½ small Kabocha squash
Basil, parsley, sage
EV Olive Oil
½ cup or more small pasta, like elbows
Parmigiano, grated or shaved
Salt and Pepper
Sliced rustic crusty bread, like ciabatta or Tuscan Pane
1. Put a large pot of water to boil, add salt if desired.
2. Turn on the oven at 370 F.
3. Wash all ingredients thoroughly.
4. Chop onion, carrots and celery in the food processor.
5. Put a large non-stick pan on the stove, drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on the bottom, 2-3 tablespoons. When hot, put the onion, carrots and celery to fry gently for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. In Italian this mix is called “soffritto” and it is used for many different preparations.
6. Cut the tomatoes in two or three pieces, add them to the soffritto, keep frying gently and stirring regularly
7. Add cubed zucchini to the stir fry.
8. Add chopped parsley and basil to the mix.
9. Add the tomato puree to the soffritto, stir and let it go for a few more minutes.
10. In the meantime, cook the borlotti beans and the chickpeas in a separate pot: cover the beans with water, add 3-4 sage leaves, 2 cloves of garlic, and let them simmer for an hour if coming from a can, or 2 hours at least if soaked overnight; when cooked, drain half of the beans and reserve.
MAIN SOUP POT
11. Put water to boil in a large pot with lid, approximately 2 quarts.
12. Chop the kale and the Swiss chard, throw them in the boiling and lightly salted water.
13. Cube the potato and put it to cook in the boiling water.
14. Cut broccoli florets and put them to boil.
15. Cook the Kabocha squash in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, until it is easy to peel and clean the inside. Cut half of it in cubes and add to the pot with the boiling water; reserve the rest for other preparations.
16. Chop the cabbage, let it fry in a different pan until translucent, add it to the soffritto.
17. Now add all the stir-fried vegetables to the boiling water, add also the cooked beans with their cooking water, cover and let simmer gently for one hour and half to two hours, checking the liquids regularly and adding hot water as needed.
18. Mix the drained beans with a food processor until creamy. Add to the soup toward the end of the cooking time (if not the soup will be too dry and will start to stick to the bottom).
19. 10 minutes before ready to serve, add the pasta to the boiling soup.
20. Adjust salt -but careful: it becomes saltier as it reduces, so wait until the end!- and pepper, turn off the stove and let it cool down a bit before serving.
21. Pour the soup in the bowls, decorate with toasted bread slices. Drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, sprinkle with grated parmigiano cheese.
A Few Notes:
- The amount of water depends on how fast your soup is boiling and how fast it is evaporating. So just keep an eye on it and make sure that the solid ingredients are always covered with water.
- The longer the soup cooks, the creamier it becomes – at the end you will lose track of the ingredients, so if you prefer to have a chunkier soup reduce the boiling time accordingly.
- If you end up having too much soup for one meal, that is good news: it keeps easily for 3-4 days in the refrigerator, and it freezes very well. Just make sure that you do not add the pasta to all the soup, so first remove the amount you want to keep for future use.
- Pasta can be substituted with rice or with farro.
- The amount of beans can be increased depending on your taste: I like my soup very beany!
- Same thing for the tomatoes: increase or decrease the quantity as you wish!
- Grated Parmigiano or Pecorino can be sprinkled on top before serving.
Elisabetta Ciardullo is the founder of Think Italian! Events. As Personal Chef she is an ambassador of the Italian cuisine and culture, bringing it into the private homes of Americans, as well as to many corporate clients in Los Angeles.