Make Mine Minestrone

While chicken soup may be the quintessential soup to serve when someone is sick and tomato soup is the perfect comfort food to serve with a grilled cheese sandwich (extra cheese please) Minestrone is the one I like to serve best on a cool crisp fall evening when there is just a hint of frost in the air and I’m ready to light the first bonfire of the season. Minestrone is an Italian soup in origin, made with fresh seasonally fall vegetables, often made more robust with the addition of pasta or rice.

The most common ingredients of Minestrone soup include beans (dry and/or canned), onions, celery, carrots, stock, and tomatoes. There is no one “politically correct” recipe for minestrone  since it is usually made out of whatever vegetables are in season or in your fridge it can whipped together (and thrown in a crockpot ) relativity quickly before you head out for the day and ready when you get home or cooked the night before and reheated . It can also be vegetarian or contain meat. In fact the word “minestrone” has become a synonym for “throw what every you like in there”. Just so you know, great minestrone should distinguish itself by the large quantity of fresh vegetables it contains and its thick consistency (great for mopping up with that extra bread that always seems to be on the table when you serve a thick soup).

MINESTRONE OF MODENA (meat)

 

1/2 cup dried cannellini beans
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
3 ounces sliced pastrami, chopped
1 cup minced yellow onions
1/2 cup minced celery
1/2 cup minced carrots
1 generous tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 (14.5 ounce) can tomatoes, drained
2 medium boiling potatoes, peeled and diced
4 ounces green beans, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium zucchini, diced
4 ounces white mushrooms, diced
2 cups shredded Savoy cabbage
4 ounces asparagus, diced
1 cup fresh or frozen petite green peas
8 to 10 basil leaves, shredded
2 quarts warm water or canned low-sodium chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sort beans, pick out the bad ones and soak overnight in water to cover.

Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add pastrami, onions, celery, carrots, and parsley; cook, stirring until vegetables are lightly golden and soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and stir, about 5 minutes. Drain and add the rehydrated cannellini beans, potatoes, green beans, zucchini, mushrooms, cabbage, asparagus, peas, and basil to the pot. Season with salt and pepper and stir for 2 to 3 minutes to coat vegetables well with savory base. Add warm water and Parmesan rind; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, partially cover, and simmer, stirring from time to time, for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until the minestrone has a dense, thick consistency. (If the soup should thicken too much, add a bit more water.) Remove cheese rind, and adjust seasoning. Turn off heat and let soup stand for about 30 minutes. Serves 8 to 10

 

Note: Rice or small pasta such as ditalini can be added to the soup during the last minutes of cooking. Add rice 10 minutes before you turn off the heat, pasta 3 to 5 minutes before. The rice or pasta will keep cooking as the soup rests.

 

Adapted from Biba’s Taste of Italy. 2001. Biba Caggiano, William Morrow Publishing

 

FAST AND EASY MINESTRONE (meat)
1 (10 ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs
1 egg
Salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
7 cups beef or chicken or vegetable broth
1 (14.5 ounce) can whole tomatoes, mashed with a spoon
1 (15.5 ounce) can kidney beans
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried basil leaves
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup sliced celery
1 cup uncooked rotelli pasta (4 ounces)

Squeeze as much moisture as possible from spinach. Mix together with beef, breadcrumbs, egg, salt, and pepper. Shape into 1-inch balls. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until very hot. Add a few meatballs and brown on all sides. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside to drain on paper towels. Repeat till all are browned.

 

Remove excess oil and add onion to Dutch oven; cook until opaque. Stir in broth, tomatoes, beans, oregano, and basil. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add carrots and celery; cover and simmer for 10 minutes more. Stir in pasta; cover and simmer until done, about 10 minutes. Add meatballs and heat through, about 5 minutes. Ladle into soup bowls. Serves 10 to 12

VEGETARIAN MINESTRONE (pareve)

 

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
1/2 large sweet potato, diced
2 medium white potatoes, diced
3 stalks celery
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 carrots, chopped
1 cup frozen corn
15 oz. canned whole tomatoes
6 cups water, boiling
Salt and pepper
Fresh or dried oregano, to taste

1/4 lb rottini pasta, cooked and drained

Parmesan cheese, optional

 

Saute the onion in the olive oil, until golden. Add the sweet potato, white potatoes, celery, peas, carrots, and corn and sauté until softened. Add tomatoes, breaking up with hands or spoon. Add boiling water, salt and pepper and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.  In the last minutes of cooking add the cooked pasta to the soup.  Ladle into bowls, garnish with cheese and oregano if desired. Serves 6.

 

VERY VEGGIE MINESTRONE (pareve or meat)

 

1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic (more if you prefer)

2 stalks celery

1 red pepper, seeded and diced into chunks
4 oz prewashed and cut kale (6 cups)
1 (1-lb) bag frozen mixed Italian vegetables such as zucchini, green beans, cauliflower, and broccoli
1 (14 1/2-oz) can “petite” diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup elbow macaroni
5 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth (42 fl oz)
2 cups water
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 (19-oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
grated parmesan, optional

 

Heat oil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook onion and garlic, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 3 minutes. Add kale and sauté, stirring, 1 minute. Add frozen vegetables, peppers, celery, tomatoes with juice, pasta, broth, water, salt, and pepper and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and pasta is al dente, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, transfer half of beans to a wide shallow bowl and coarsely mash with a fork or a potato masher, then stir mashed and whole beans into soup and simmer, stirring occasionally, until soup is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

 

Modified from a recipe from epicurious.com

 

MEATBALL MINESTRONE (meat or pareve)

 

1 cup frozen chopped onion

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 (15- to 19-ounce) can cannellini beans, undrained

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1 (1.4-ounce) package dry vegetable soup mix

1 (16-ounce) package frozen cooked meatballs or vegetarian meatballs

2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans Italian-style diced tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 cup elbow pasta, uncooked

1 (10-ounce) package fresh washed baby spinach

 

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the onion and the garlic in the olive oil until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the beans and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Stir in vegetable soup mix until dissolved. Add meatballs, tomatoes and crushed red pepper and return to a boil. Add elbow macaroni and cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes or until pasta are tender.

Add the spinach and stir until it is wilted, about 1 minute. Serves 6.

 

MINESTRONE PASTA BOWL (dairy)

Not technically a soup but hey, it’s close and it’s really delicious so who cares what you call it.
1 package (16 ounces) uncooked rigatoni pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons Italian Seasoning Mix, divided
1 large zucchini, sliced
1 large carrot, chopped
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 jar (26 ounces) spaghetti sauce
1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package and drain. Return pasta to stockpot; add 1
tablespoon of the oil and 1 teaspoon of the seasoning mix, stirring to
coat. Cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile Heat remaining oil in skillet over medium heat until hot. Add garlic stir-fry 1 minute.  Add zucchini and carrot; stir-fry 2-3 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Add mushrooms, spaghetti sauce, garbanzo beans and remaining seasoning mix. Cook, stirring occasionally, 5-6 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and heated through. Transfer pasta to a large bowl. Carefully pour sauce over pasta. Grate Parmesan cheese over pasta. Serve immediately. 8 servings

 

SIMPLE MINESTRONE FOR FOUR (meat)

2 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
1 large potato, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 medium zucchinis, grated
One 8 3/4-ounce can red kidney beans, drained
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
Pinch of dried red pepper flakes
olive oil for drizzling
Combine the chicken stock, water, potato and garlic in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the potato becomes tender, about 15 minutes. Using a spoon or large fork, mash the potato slightly. Add the zucchini and kidney beans; cook until the beans are heated, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. Divide among four soup bowls and drizzle a small amount of extra virgin olive oil over each serving. Serves 4
AUTUMN VEGETABLE MINESTRONE (pareve)

2 (14.5 oz) cans vegetable broth
1 (18 oz) can crushed tomatoes — undrained
3 medium carrots — chopped
3 small zucchini — cut into 1/2″ slices
1 medium yellow bell pepper — cut into 1/2″ pieces
8 medium green onions — sliced
2 cloves garlic — finely chopped
2 cups shredded cabbage
2 teaspoons dried marjoram
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup uncooked instant rice
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Mix all ingredients except rice and basil in a 3 1/2 to 6 quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low heat setting for 6 to 8 hours or until vegetables are tender. Stir in rice. Cover and cook on low heat setting for about 15 minutes or until rice is tender. Serves 6.

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