There is no set recipe for Minestrone soup. At it’s essence it is an Italian mixed vegetable soup containing pasta or rice, and is usually made with whatever vegetables are in season. It is generally thought that Minestrone orginated in Genoa, where it is made with pumpkin, cabbage, fava beans, courgettes, kidney beans, celery and tomatoes, and garnished with three different types of pasta. However, the earliest origins of vegetable-based soup can be traced back to Marcus Apicius’s ancient cookbook De Re Coquinaria, which describes a Roman soup dating back to 30AD which contains a similar mix of pulses and seasonal vegetables.
Whatever the history of the dish, a good Minestrone soup, served with some crusty bread, can be served as a meal in itself. It is also a great way to use up leftover vegetables at the end of the week, especially if you have been preparing carrot or potato-based purees fro young children, and are wondering how best to use the remaining ingredients.
This particular recipe for Minestrone comes from Rachel Allen’s Easy Meals, but feel free to substitute whatever vegetable that are in season that you might have to hand (I left out the cabbage in my version). These quantities will serve 4-6.
2 tbsp olive oil
150g (5oz) bacon, cut into approx 2cm dice
1 onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large tomatoes, chopped
100ml (3 1/2 fl oz) red wine
1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints) chicken or vegetable stock
Pinch of sugar
1 x 400g tin of cannellini or flageolot beans, drained and rinsed
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
1 potato, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
1 stick of celery, trimmed and cut into 1cm dice
1/4 small cabbage, such as Savoy, cross removed and leaves shredded crossways
75g (3oz) dried spaghetti, broken into pieces
1 tsp chopped thyme leaves
2 tsp chopped parsley
4 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve
Pour half the olive oil into a large saucepan on a high heat and, when hot, add the bacon and fry for 4 minutes or until the fat has rendered and the bacon is golden. Reduce the heat to medium, add the remaining olive oil and stir in the onion and the garlic. Season with salt (but not too much as the bacon will be salty) and pepper and cook for 6-8 minutes or until the onion is soft but not browned.
Add the chopped tomatoes, red wine and stock and season with salt (again, not too much) and a pinch of sugar. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the beans and carrots, bring back up to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, then add the potato and cook for a further 10 minutes.
Season with a little more salt, then add the celery, cabbage and spaghetti. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until the pasta is tender, then remove from the heat and stir in the herbs and Parmesan cheese.
Taste for seasoning and serve with some more freshly grated Parmesan cheese scattered over the top.