A week or so ago when I made this Fabulous Focaccia, I also made a big pot of hearty Minestrone soup.
Full of a garden’s worth of vegetables, this Italian soup is easy to make and also easy to customize to your own taste.
There are a few usual suspects in Minestrone…tomatoes, onions, zucchini, beans and also a few that you can swap out like cabbage, kale, or spinach.
My Minestrone starts (like any good Italian recipe) with rendered Pancetta. It also uses a bit of chicken stock to pump up the flavor. However, if you want to go all veggie, you can easily skip the pork products and substitute vegetable stock for the chicken broth.
Here’s what you need:
Pancetta, Carrots, Celery, Onion, Garlic, Zucchini, Cannellini Beans, Diced Tomatoes, Spinach, Small Pasta (Ditalini), Chicken Stock, Water (not pictured), Olive Oil, Fresh Basil, Dried Basil, Dried Oregano, Bay Leaves, Red Pepper Flakes (not pictured), Romano Cheese*, V8 Juice (not pictured), Salt & Pepper.
I know it’s a long list of ingredients, but it’s just soup – a little chopping and quick saute and everything goes right into the pot.
If you’ve been hanging out here at Idiot’s Kitchen for a while, you’re probably already well acquainted with Pancetta — the Italian version of bacon.
I buy mine at the deli counter and ask for 2 slices about 1/4 inch thick. This usually equals about 1/4 pound. Cut the slices into strips and then into small cubes.
As long as we’re chopping….dice up 1 medium onion, 2 carrots, and 1 stalk of celery.
In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, cook the chopped pancetta in 1 Tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.
You’ll want to take your time here — about 5 minutes over medium heat — to cook the most fat out of the pancetta without getting it too brown in the process.
Once the pancetta turns a golden brown and has released most of its delicious fat, add the chopped onion, carrots, and celery to the pan. Saute over medium high heat for another 5 minutes.
Once the veggies have had a head start, finely chop 4 -5 gloves of garlic and add them to the pan.
Add 1 (28 ounce) can of diced tomatoes and their juices and 1 (15 ounce) can of white cannellini beans and their juices.
Note: I usually rinse canned beans before I add them to recipes, but in this case, the starchy liquid from the beans will help to slightly thicken the soup. Go ahead and dump them right on into the pot.
Next, add 2 cups of chicken stock – either homemade if you have it, or low-sodium store bought broth or stock.
Speaking of homemade chicken broth, I got all industrious a few weeks ago and made a huge pot. When I buy whole or cut up chicken, there are often those extra parts that you might not want to cook — the wings, back, neck, etc. Just put them in a zipper bag in your freezer. Likewise, if you make something like a roast chicken, save the bones and add them to your freezer bag. Then, when you have accumulated enough spare chicken parts, bust out your largest pot and make some homemade chicken stock. Then you can make soup right away or freeze it in smaller containers for recipes like this one. You’ll feel all Martha Stewart-y!
Back to the soup. In addition to the chicken broth, add 6 cups of water to the pot.
*Here is the secret ingredient for good Minestrone. If you buy Romano or Parmesan cheese in a wedge at the store, it will have a hard rind on the fat end of the wedge. The rind usually has little holes or writing on it.
Please, for the love of all things cheesy and Italian, NEVER throw this little rind section away. Even if you are grating the cheese for any other recipe, when you get down to the rind, pop it in a ziplock bag, and toss it in the freezer. Then you can retrieve that precious rind and add it to soup or sauce where it will simmer and release all of those aged cheese flavors right into your soup.
Toss that cheese rind right into the pot. Add extra seasoning with 1 teaspoon dried basil, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 2 bay leaves, salt & pepper. If you want a little more kick, add a few crushed red pepper flakes too.
Bring the soup up to a boil and then turn the heat down to low, cover with a lid and simmer for 45 – 60 minutes.
Many recipes have a shorter cooking time since all of the vegetables cook quickly, but I’ve found that if I simmer a bit longer at this point, the soup has much better flavor.
After the soup has cooked for at least 45 minutes, slice 2 small zucchini into quarters and chop them into small, bite sized wedges.
Here is another point in the soup making where you have some options. Most Minestrone recipes call for cabbage or kale. Personally, I’m not big on beans AND cabbage in the same soup. You don’t have to be a scientific genius to figure out the gas production from that combination. Kale is a good substitute, but my favorite green for Minestrone is spinach.
I use about 1/2 bag (about 3 ounces, but you can certainly add more) of chopped baby spinach.
Add the zucchini and spinach to the pot. By adding them after the soup has already cooked for some time, these softer vegetables will stay a little bit crisper and not completely dissolve into mush.
I also like to add a small shape of pasta to my Minestrone. I’m using 1/2 cup of little tube pasta called Ditalini. You only need 1/2 cup as it really puffs up when it cooks.
Ugh! I hate blurry pictures, but wanted you to see shape of the little pasta tubes. Any small pasta will do the trick, even little macaroni elbows.
Here is another little secret ingredient that I didn’t plan on adding. V8 juice! After I started cooking my soup, I happened to look at a Cook’s Illustrated Magazine from a few months ago and lo and behold, there was a minestrone recipe. They suggested that adding V8 juice would improve both the flavor and texture of the soup.
They are usually right about these kinds of things so add 1 cup of V8 to your pot if you have it.
Be sure your soup is still simmering and cook for an additional 20- 30 minutes, with the lid off, until the vegetables and pasta are tender.
Just look at all the good things in this soup! Give it a taste to adjust the seasonings. You might need to add a bit more salt and pepper. Oh, and remember that cheese rind? If you can still find it in once piece, fish it out but usually it dissolves right into the soup.
Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped fresh basil and grated parmesan or romano cheese.
This easily makes 8 servings, freezes great, and is even better the next day.
Be sure to try it with some warm focaccia!
Here’s the recipe: Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated