Minestrone literally means big soup/ minestra (the Italian suffix –one/a/o means “ big”). It really is a big soup– thick, filling, made of lots of seasonal vegetables, and can include pulses, pasta (the very small kinds) or rice, and even cubes of meat. In other words, you’re free to make your big soup as big as you want and full of whatever you fancy. There is not one kind of minestrone or one single recipe. The general idea is to include a variety of vegetables, and the only thing to be careful of, is that all the ingredients are equally cooked. So, you can use broccoli, cabbage, spinach etc or substitute beans with chick peas, or combine them etc….it’s up to you.
Out of all the minestrones I’ve tasted in Italy, I prefer the northern Italian varieties. They make the perfect dish on a cold day. The recipe I am giving you is the one we make at home and sometimes I add a cup of short macaroni (ditaglini) right at the last stage of cooking which boils in the soup, taking into account how long it will need to cook. In Genova, they add pesto at the end, which I love, as much for the colour as the taste.
Minestrone: big, delicious, filling
Preparation: Minestrone can be made hours in advance and reheated before serving. If you’re in a hurry, you can add all the ingredients at the same time once the onion has been sautéed. As a general rule, however, I don’t recommend it, as adding the vegetables gradually, allows each flavour to develop and stops any one ingredient becoming overcooked. Easy recipe.
Ingredients (serve 6)
2 lt vegetable stock or water
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 leek, sliced
2 carrots, cubed
1 bunch of celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and in 1-1.5 cm cubes
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme or ½ tsp dried thyme
1 cup peas
2-3 courgettes, cubed
2 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
2 cups small white beans, boiled (or tinned, ready boiled)
3 spoons pesto (optional)
Making the soup: Heat the oil in a large pot and add the onion and leek. Sauté on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes until the onion has softened but before it browns. Add the carrots, celery and garlic and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring continuously. Do the same with the potatoes for another 2-3 minutes. Pour in the water or stock and add the bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper.
Now set the heat on high until the soup starts to boil, then turn it down to a medium setting and cook for 10-12 minutes. Add the peas, courgettes, beans and tomatoes. Cover the pot and cook on a low heat for a further 5-8 minutes, until all the vegetables are cooked. Taste and add salt and pepper. Allow the soup to cool before checking the consistency – if it’s too thick, add some more stock.
Note: If it’s to be reheated, add the hot water or stock before heating again.
Serving: Heat the soup up gradually 10 minutes before serving time on a low heat. Add the pesto, if being included. Pour into bowls or deep dishes, drizzle a little olive oil across the surface and garnish with 1-2 basil leaves. Serve the parmigiano separately.