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The Many Faces of Minestrone

By James Parker, February 2, 2010  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by James Parker
hearty_minestrone_soupOne of my favorite fall/winter/spring soups is minestrone. It's easy to make, the kids will eat it (most of the time), it's warm and comforting as the weather cools, and perhaps most importantly in my home it has many faces. For me, minestrone is a vegetable soup with pasta. This means that as the quality and availability of fresh vegetables changes with the seasons, the ingredients for my soup change too. In my recipe, I use a base of beans, canned tomatoes, chicken broth and pasta. But that changes sometimes too. The beans could be kidney, cannellini or garbanzo (or a combination of any or all). I also like using a dried bean I get at my farmers market the grower calls a "Grandma Bean" (his grandmother brought it over from Norway) that is kind of like a lima. My minestrone1favorite canned tomato is the Muir Glenn fire roasted but lately I have found richer competition in the form of an Italian San Marzano variety Roma tomato. The kind I buy is packed in tomato sauce so it packs a bit more of a tomato punch. The chicken broth can be replaced with beef or vegetable broth for uniquely different flavors. Even my pasta type will change from the tradition penne to different shapes and sizes that are attracting the attention of my children (or what I happen to have in my pantry). My current favorite is Orecchiette Del Prete - a bowl shaped pasta that is delightful. The vegetable world is where my ingredients will vary the most - largely defined by what looks best at the grocery store or farmers' market. Here's a rundown on my veggie variations: minestrone3Carrot: this one doesn't change much but occasionally I will replace with a parsnip or lately with a different color carrot (white or purple) Celery: a very important (and widely available) ingredient but can be replaced in a pinch by anise (or fennel bulb) for the same texture but a slightly different contributing flavor. I always use some of the leaves of both for added color and flavor. Onions/garlic: Again items that don't change much but as we progress further into spring, my dried storage specimens give way to spring onions and garlic (with green tops). These have a milder flavor and the addition of the greens really adds some nice color. Occasionally I will also trade regular onions for sweet varieties depending on what looks better. Cabbage: my current favorite cabbage to use is Napa - it has a lighter texture and flavor over regular cabbage and is generally available in a range of sizes. I will also replace cabbage with greens occasionally (kale or collard) if I am in the mood for a richer flavored soup. Also note: our produce team members will be happy to slice a cabbage in half for you if you don't want a whole one. Green beans: a "summer" vegetable, green beans are generally the item I have the most trouble with - especially in the dead of winter when quality can vary wildly from week to week. Snap peas are generally my replacement until further in the spring when English peas take the place of green beans until summer. Herbs: this is perhaps the most important set of ingredients. Parsley is a must, then I usually let my herb garden dictate what else goes in. This can be marjoram, oregano, thyme or rosemary - often a combination of several to taste. minestrone2 Here's my basic recipe: Olive oil (for sautéing) 3 carrots, sliced in ½ inch rounds 4 celery stalks, sliced (usually the inside stalks with greens) One medium yellow or white onion, finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, crushed 1/4 head Napa cabbage, chopped A handful of green beans, snapped into bite-sized pieces 2 tablespoons parsley (Italian or curly) 1 tablespoon marjoram or oregano (or both) 1/2 teaspoon thyme or rosemary (or both) 24 - 28oz diced tomatoes (or whole and crush them by hand - which is great fun) 42oz chicken broth 1/2 slice of bacon (optional - for a thicker broth) 1 14oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed 4 oz cooked pasta Salt and pepper to taste I sauté all the vegetables in a bit of olive oil before they go into the soup pot - mainly to speed up cooking time but also to bring out the sugars. I also combine my herbs with the vegetables when I sauté — for no other reason than to make my kitchen smell fantastic. Add all the rest of the ingredients (except the beans and pasta) and cook for 25-30 minutes. About five minutes before the end of that cooking time, add the beans and pre-cooked pasta. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with a nice crusty bread. minestrone4 Sorry if I have offended the minestrone purists - maybe I should call this my vegetable soup with pasta blog. But 30 years in produce have taught me to keep my options open. I also happen to think that life is richer with variety (and so is soup). Tell me if I'm missing something - I am clearly open to new ideas.
Category: Food & Recipes




Margo says ...
I was just wondering if you vary your onion choices much? I noticed you stated sometimes you will use sweet onions instead, but have you ever tried leeks, shallots or substituting chives for a different taste? If you have tried any of these, did you and your family have a flavor preference?
02/02/2010 3:40:16 PM CST
screwdestiny says ...
I love minestrone. It's cool that you vary it so much depending on the season.
02/02/2010 3:58:56 PM CST
parkerj says ...
Hi Margo- I have not tried any of these but I will. I bet leeks would be great- I also planted Shallots with my garlic this year so I might add them to my list of "green" onions/garlic to add. Thanks for the suggestion
02/03/2010 9:55:10 AM CST
Phoenix Marshall says ...
Thanks for the recipe, it looks really good. I've been eating more soup lately just because of how cold it's been. I'll probably give this a try over the weekend.
02/03/2010 11:33:58 AM CST
hmrhonda says ...
I need a source for "canned" tomatoes that come in glass jars. I do not buy metal canned goods. I cook my own beans ahead of time and freeze them in small portions in glass purex dishes for convenient use. Please Whole Foods, if you can't find glass jar canned tomatoes, who will? ( I have used marinara sauce in a pinch but miss the chunks of tomatoes.
02/03/2010 9:16:01 PM CST
Robin solldtallblonde512@verizon.ne says ...
Made this recipe with chickpeas and northern beans bought at the store... Bought the low sodium Pacific CHicken stock too. Added some fusili pasta and the soup WAS delicious. Made a large vat and put a ton in the freezer... Its sooooo yummy.
02/04/2010 3:06:38 AM CST
Toni says ...
I'm Italian. My grandma called her "wedding soup", minestrone. Chicken broth base, 5 or 6 quarts or so. 2 to 3 lbs endive or escarole cooked and chopped. Penny size Italian meatballs, 1 to 2 lbs,lightly browned or bake 20 minutes at 375. Bring to boil, add 1 to 1.5 cups rice, reduce heat, cover and simmer 1 to 2 hours. Whisk 4 eggs with about 1/2 to 1 cup of grated parmesan and some Italian bread crumbs. Mixture will be thick, increase soup to medium bowl and swirl in egg mixture. Simmer, low boil. uncovered for an hour or so. Amazing. It will freeze well also.
02/04/2010 4:21:55 AM CST
Maureen Koplow says ...
I like most of your comments and recipe ingredients, but I honestly don't understand why a "vegetable" soup has to have beef or chicken stock or bacon. There are so many soups which, by definition, have animal ingredients. Why can't vegetable soups like minestrone be made without animals? There's so much flavor in vegetable broth, and so many marvelous herbs and spices to add taste and texture to the soup. As a long-time (37 years) vegetarian, I like to be able to trust the foods I eat, and I don't appreciate the addition of "secret" ingredients - those that cannot be seen with the naked eye. I can avoid foods with chunks of meat, but broth and seasonings are not as easy to discern. Vegetable soup and minestrone should be just what they are supposed to be, and if they contain animal parts, their names should reflect that - i.e. "chicken" vegetable, or "beef" minestrone.
02/10/2010 9:30:42 AM CST
cassie says ...
I love minestrone and I'm not a purist either: a tablespoonful or two of miso paste, in lieu of salt, adds a solid, delicious base to the soup. Sweet potatoes are also a nice addition in the winter!
02/10/2010 10:21:37 AM CST
Gigi says ...
Try adding cubes of sweet potato or winter squash. Yummm! Also prepared gnocchi instead of pasta.
02/10/2010 12:01:01 PM CST
Denise says ...
To hmrhonda- I chop up fresh tomatoes all summer and freeze them to use in soups and other dishes over the winter. They work as well for some things - i.e. pasta dishes - but I think they taste much better than canned tomatoes in soups, and of course can be frozen in glass containers. I've seen tomatoes in boxes but not jars, unfortunately, in stores.
02/10/2010 1:02:30 PM CST
K. says ...
Your recipe does sound good, and it is always fun to vary soup ingredients to suit varying tastes, but I must disagree with you that Minestrone is vegetable soup with pasta. In our house, Minestrone is vegetable soup with rice. This is the favorite Minestrone recipe in our household: 8 c. of broth (veg, chix, or beef), 1 lg. chopped onion, 2 good sized carrots - sliced, 2 or so stalks of celery - chopped, fresh or dry parsley to taste, 1 tsp. minced garlic, 2 good sized tomatoes - chopped, 2 medium sized potatoes - chopped, 1 or 2 zucchini - chopped, 2 c. kidney beans - already cooked, 1/2. c. uncooked rice, salt and pepper to taste, pat of butter or margarine to taste. And optionally, add a pound or so of the meat or meat substitute of your choice. I will vary some parts of my recipe, but to me it is just not the same Minestrone without zucchini and rice, those are must haves! Reheated pasta in soup always gets too overcooked, I think. But rice just gets creamy soft and thickens the reheated soup. Yum! Thanks for the Minestrone post, perfect cold weather food. : )
02/10/2010 4:28:09 PM CST
Allysson says ...
Like you,James, I came up with a "basic" recipe for minestrone years ago that would vary depending on what was in season - or in my refrigerator. I often use spinach or chard instead of cabbage (preferred by my family) and only vegetable broth for my vegetarian husband. In the winter I will substitute frozen green beans, but add them later in the cooking time than with fresh. I often include bell pepper too. Sometimes I use leftover pasta sauce in the broth, and then use less seasoning. Our favorite herb is basil, but I use some of the others as well. Traditional cooks used what was available, so this kind of seasonal cooking is actually more traditional than any kind of fixed recipe in my opinion.
02/10/2010 8:12:54 PM CST
Allysson says ...
@hmrhonda: Some pasta sauces are labelled "chunky" and come with chunks of tomatoes in it. That might work as a substitute for the canned tomatoes.
02/10/2010 8:16:37 PM CST
nancy mullen says ...
Have you ever thought about combining some of the soup stock and a can or 2 of beans and puree. It gives the soup some umph and taste.
02/10/2010 9:17:08 PM CST
irene Diamante says ...
02/11/2010 10:07:35 AM CST
parkerj says ...
Hi Maureen Koplow, You are correct - I should have said "soup with vegetables". Vegetable soup implies it is all vegetable and I agree it is hard to tell what the broth base is. I have made this soup with a vegetable broth and it is just as good (thinner- but just as flavorful)- bacon and animal protein based broths are certainly optional. I see a miso paste option (thanks Cassie) I have never tried that sounds great as well. James P.
02/11/2010 1:51:59 PM CST
Helga says ...
I always found my minestrone lacking in flavor until an Italian woman told me to add a chunk of parmesan rind. She called it the 'vegetarian bones'. That made a huge difference. I only use vegetable stock, so here's a vegetarian version with a very rich flavor.
02/11/2010 10:44:09 PM CST
parkerj says ...
Parmesan rind? Wow- I have to try that! Also Zucchini and rice (K- you are right that pasta tends to continue to expand)
02/12/2010 10:42:41 AM CST
Cheryl Flynn says ...
If you don't want to use canned tomatoes, I just sometimes, put in chunk tomatoes in with the broth...it cooks down and it gives a tomato flavor as well. I make soup every week for my lunch to go. I vary the greens. I have been hooked on dinosaur kale lately. Sometimes I use beans, usually white beans, sometimes, I use pasta. I always use vegetable stock...not broth, the stock is very rich. I also add sweet potatos or butternut squash. As this cooks down, it makes the soup a little creamy.
02/17/2010 4:57:56 PM CST
Sarah says ...
I make a milder, sweeter minestrone that tastes good hot or cold by leaving out the celery, onion, garlic, rosemary, and marjoram/oregano, and any meat ingredient (I save those for my vegetable beef soup!) and adding soft cooked summer squash, and fresh sweet basil. I serve it with parmesan or romano -- and I will second the effectiveness of a parmesan rind in the broth!
02/17/2010 8:34:46 PM CST
Marsha says ...
Would you please include the nutritional analysis/content of each recipe placed on the website. This would be very helpful to many, I think. This looks like a nice soup and am looking forward to trying it. Thanks!
02/18/2010 8:04:07 AM CST
Alan says ...
Your variations on this delightful soup is refreshing to read. I am on the way to my favorite Whole Foods in Vegas. I know what i am making for our Sunday meal......yeah
02/21/2010 11:04:44 AM CST