Pity the poor American like me growing up with that disgusting canned minestrone soup in the 80’s. Hey, I loved it at the time, I really did, especially loaded with crumbled saltines, sometimes so many saltines that I could have eaten my soup with a fork.
Real minestrone–of which there are countless variations–is nothing like canned soup. Well, no homemade soup is like canned soup. These days it is so easy to get ‘better’ soup from a box or even fresh from a refrigerated section of some fancy store like Wegmans or Wholefoods. But I’m not sure it’s worth it unless you’re pressed for time. Homemade soup is not hard. Homemade soup is nutritious. There are plenty of soups (such as a basic vegetable soup) that can be ready in 20 minutes. Kids love soup.
For today’s version, I am heavily inspired by the amazing Giorgio Locatelli who owns Locanda Locatelli in London and writes (or at least used to write) a column in the Sunday Newspaper (can’t remember if it was the Observer or the Guardian though). Here are some of his ideas:
– Make minestrone any time of year, and use what’s in season.
– Good minestrone means a good balance between vegetables and starch, be it potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.
– Add in the vegetables according to cooking time, for example, potatoes go in last so they don’t fall apart in the soup.
– Serve with olive oil or pesto or just plain.
– Use dried beans that you have soaked and cooked till tender.
– Don’t overcook pasta if you are using.
– Save your parmesan rinds for soup!
– Use a vegetable stock you know and trust. I don’t like the sweet ones. Bleck.
Ingredients for Autumn Minestrone
4-6 servings depending on how hungry
1 onion, chopped finely
2-3 spring onions chopped
1 garlic clove, sliced finely (2 cloves for the garlic lovers)
1 carrot, chopped
1 large celery, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked cannellini (or borlotti) beans
3-4 large leaves of Kale (tuscan or lavender), chopped
or 3-4 large leaves of Spinach
1 potato, cubed
3 cups vegetable stock (or 3 cups water and one vegetable bouillon)
1 parmesan rind
About 8 oz of pasta, such as penne, ditalini or cavatelli
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil
1. Start with the soffritto. Heat up olive oil (don’t be shy with the olive oil) and gently fry the onion, carrot, celery and garlic till soft. Don’t burn.
2. Add in the stock, beans, kale (or spinach), tomato and parmesan rind.
3. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
4. When soup is looking nearly done (kale is softening, tomato is breaking down), add in the potato.
5. Meanwhile heat up salted water and cook pasta until al dente. Strain and set aside. Do not rinse.
6. Check the soup and when the potato is tender, it is done.
7. Portion out the pasta into bowls and top with the soup, salt and pepper, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and pesto if desired.
Arugula (rocket) and almond pesto
2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
1/4 cup almonds, chopped
about 12 basil leaves
3/4 bag baby arugula salad or 3 cups packed arugula
about 1 – 1 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil or so
1/4 to 1/3 cup grated parmegianno reggiano
Plenty of freshly ground salt and pepper.
My favorite is plain old basil and pine nut pesto. NOTHING tops it. But use what you have, and this is pretty good too.
1. If you have a food processor, throw everything in but the extra virgin olive oil. Pulse a few times and then hit blend while slowly drizzling the extra virgin olive oil through the top. If you need more than 1/2 cup, that is fine. Make it the consistency you like. Add as much salt and pepper as you like.
2. If using a blender, add everything in (even the extra virgin olive oil). Alternate pulsing with using a spatula or spoon to push everything down. Keep trudging until everything is incorporated to a smooth pesto.
This soup is just fine and dandy on it’s own. It doesn’t need the pesto. But it is delicious with it and you are getting the extra bonus of flavor from the raw garlic and arugula. Before you eat, stir the pesto in. Otherwise it will overpower the soup.