Minestrone

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In Italian the word minestrone literally means “big soup”, in contrast with the simpler and lighter minestra. It’s a rich and satisfying soup of mixed vegetables – fresh or dry – to which pasta or rice is added in the last phase of cooking.
The secret of good minestrone lays in a long cooking, so that the vegetables almost melt, giving it an almost creamy texture. This way the minestrone will acquire a homogenous taste, completed by pasta or rice.
There are many recipes for minestrone, depending from the season when it’s cooked or the region of Italy where the recipe comes from.
It’s one of those country dishes that  Italian mothers and grandmothers used to make with whatever was available in their pantry or in their garden while today, with all kind of produce available year-round, we have the luxury to choose the vegetables we want to put into it. Don’t be too particular about the ingredients: while the sauté mirepoix is a must and the potatoes provide the starch to bind all other ingredients together, use a mix of vegetables that inspires you or simply those you have in your refrigerator. I guarantee that all minestroni will turn out equally good. I always recommend using only the vegetables that are in-season because they are fresher, more nutrient, and provide the minerals and vitamins that we need for that particular time of the year.

I suggest two different versions of the same recipe, one for the cold season and one for the warm season. Both of them use the same base ingredients, but the former is richer while the latter is lighter and can be eaten either warm or cold.
For simplicity’s sake, I’ll call them Spring Minestrone and Winter Minestrone.

 

Spring Minestrone

Ingredients:

(serves 4)    Sp  S  V  B  Gf (with rice)

6 cups of water
2 zucchini
2 medium yellow potatoes
2 stalks of celery
3 carrots
2 cups of shredded green cabbage
1 cup of shelled green peas
1/2 cup of dry organic white (like cannellini) beans (soaked the night before)
2 ripe Roma tomatoes
½ cup of tomato sauce (see my recipe)
½ medium yellow onion
1 leek (only the white part)
a few sprigs of parsley
6 leaves of basil
4 Tbsp. EVOO
1 tsp. of sea salt
3 ounces of small pasta (like ditalini) or rice
Parmesan to grate when you serve

You can replace basil with a tablespoon of homemade basil pesto (see my recipe), if fresh basil is available.
Soak the white beans overnight in a non-metallic vessel.The following day rinse the beans and set them aside while you chop the other vegetables.
Finely mince the onion, the celery and one carrot with a sharp knife. Warm up the EVOO in the pot where you will cook the minestrone, add the onion/celery/carrot mix (mirepoix) and sauté on medium heat.
Peel the potatoes cut them into small cubes. Wash the remaining two carrots, the zucchini, tomatoes and leek and cut them into small pieces.
Wash and shred the cabbage.
When the mirepoix becomes to brown, transfer all the vegetables into the pot, add the green peas, the white beans, sauté for a couple of minutes, then add the water and bring to a boil. Add the tomato sauce, the salt, and cook for one hour.
After half an hour check the thickness of the minestrone and, if needed, add some boiling water. Keep in mind that when you add the pasta (or rice) it’s going to absorb some water. When the vegetables start melting, add the pasta (or the rice) and cook until al dente. Wash the parsley and the basil, detach the leaves from the stems, chop finely with a knife and add them to the pot.
Serve warm or cold, grating the Parmesan cheese right before serving.

 

Winter Minestrone

Ingredients:

(serves 4)     W  F  V  B  Gf (with rice)

6 cups of water
½ lb. of squash (cabocha or acorn)
2 medium yellow potatoes
2 stalks of celery
3 carrots
¼ cauliflower
2 leaves of swiss chard
½ cup of dry lentils
½ cup of dry organic borlotti or pinto beans (soaked the night before)
½ cup of tomato sauce (see my recipe)
½ medium yellow onion
1 leek (only the white part)
a few sprigs of parsley
1 twig of rosemary
4 Tbsp. EVOO
1 tsp. of sea salt
3 ounces of small pasta (like ditalini) or rice
Parmesan to grate when you serve

Soak the beans overnight in a non-metallic vessel.
The following day rinse the beans and set them aside while you chop the other vegetables.
Finely mince the onion, the celery and one carrot with a sharp knife. Warm up the EVOO in the pot where you will cook the minestrone, add the onion/celery/carrot mix (mirepoix) and sauté on medium heat.
Peel the potatoes and the squash cut them into small cubes. Wash the remaining two carrots, cauliflower, Swiss chard and leek and cut them into small pieces.
When the mirepoix becomes a light brown, transfer all the vegetables into the pot, add the the beans, sauté for a couple of minutes, then add the water and bring to a boil. Add the tomato sauce, the dry lentils (rinse them first), the salt, the rosemary, cover and cook for one hour on low heat.
After half an hour, check the thickness of the minestrone and, if needed, add some boiling water. Keep in mind that when you add the pasta (or rice) it’s going to absorb some water. When the vegetables start melting, add the pasta (or the rice) and cook until al dente. Wash the parsley, detach the leaves from the stems, chop finely with a knife and add it to the pot.
Serve hot, grating the Parmesan cheese right before serving.

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