I’ve inherited a love of soup (as well as bread) from both sides of my family. My Zayde was known for saying, when asked what he would like to eat, “something with a spoon.” Soup, that is. Usually it was chicken soup, with matzo balls or noodles. In the spring, my grandmother made beet borscht from a fermented starter called Rossel.
Germans seem to eat soup with every meal other than breakfast. My dad, a naturalized American, kept this habit as much as possible, even in the summer.
Both sets of grandparents usually considered soup as a first course preceding the meal.
For me, soup is the meal.
As soon as the weather gets cool, I start thinking of minestrone.
Minestra is Italian for soup, and minestrone is simply a soup with many ingredients. It is infinitely variable, depending on what you like and what you have on hand.
I like to make mine with plenty of cooked beans for heartiness, and lots of vegetables. Sometimes I have potatoes as in the recipe below, but often not. Some people like to add rice or other grains or pasta in the pot.
Over the long cooking period, the flavors of the different vegetables blend together; I like to add some greens or green beans and basil toward the end of the cooking time for their bright color and fresh flavor.
I don’t use a recipe per se, so when I sat down to write out instructions, the process sounded much more complicated than it really is. Trust me on this.
Also, if you’re missing some of the ingredients, don’t worry. Sauteed onions with broth, tomatoes and other vegetables will taste delicious, if you just give it some time. You can adapt this recipe as much as you like, adding whatever you like. No two batches of minestrone are ever the same.
- 1 to 1 ½ cups navy beans or canellini beans, uncooked or 2 cups of canned cooked beans
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 or 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 cup diced carrots
- 1 cup diced celery
- ½ cup diced zucchini
- 1 cup diced potatoes
- 1 to 1 ½ cups canned diced tomatoes
- 6 to 8 cups of homemade broth or 1 to 2 cups canned broth plus 4 to 7 cups of water
- 1 bay leaf
- Optional: crust of parmesan, romano or pecorino hard cheese, ¼ to ½ cup red wine
- fresh basil or basil cubes.
- Optional: blanched (barely cooked) green beans, and/or spinach, chard or kale; frozen corn, frozen green beans and/or peas; parsley
1. The night before I plan to make minestrone, I soak some white beans in a pot of cold water, so I can cook them the next day. If you don’t have time for this step, substitute the canned beans.
2. In a large cooking pot or stockpot, heat up your olive oil; then add the onion and sauté until it’s soft and a light golden color. As it sautés, you can dice the garlic. Since you will be adding the ingredients one at a time, as each one is cooking, you can cut up the next.
3. Add the garlic for two minutes or so, stirring; then add the carrots for two or three minutes; then the celery for a couple minutes, the zucchini for a couple minutes and the potatoes.
4. Add the broth and the tomatoes, and the bay leaf, along with the optional cheese crust and wine. Salt lightly and add more later, if you wish.
5. Heat until simmering; then cover the pot and lower the heat so it cooks at a steady gentle simmer. You can leave the pot like this for two hours or more, but if you want your soup sooner, it will taste fine too – just that the flavors won’t be as blended together.
6. At this point, taste and adjust for salt, plus add a little more wine if you like, or more tomatoes, wine or broth if it is too thick. Then add the cooked navy or canellini beans, stir and cook for another 20 minutes.
7. If you’re using frozen vegetables, it’s time to add those.
8. After another five minutes, add the basil (a few tablespoons of fresh chopped basil or a couple of those basil cubes you put away), plus some green beans and/or chopped greens and chopped parsley. These will just barely cook, while retaining their bright color. If you reheat the soup later, you can add some more greens.
9. Your soup is ready! Remove the bay leaf and the cheese crust if you used it, and sprinkle freshly grated hard cheese (pecorino, parmesan, romano) over the top if you like.
With some crusty bread, this makes a hearty and healthy lunch or supper. A glass of red wine goes well too. (Thanks to Rick for the wine — check out Rick’s winemaking blog.)
A stay-at-home weekend day is perfect for making minestrone–and if you’re not serving a crowd, you’ll have plenty left over. And that’s good, because when you reheat the soup the next day it will taste even better.
Stored in a covered container in your fridge, the soup will keep well for up to a week (if you can keep it that long). Or you can freeze it in small containers and take it to work with you for lunch or heat up anytime you don’t have a pot of minestrone on your stovetop or in your fridge.
What’s your favorite way to make minestrone or other big hearty soup? Write a comment below and let me know.