“Minestrone” is a generic Italian word, which used to describe a very substantial, large bowl of soup or stew. However, this word no longer refers to a general soup. It describes a specific and particularly delicious Italian soup, which is respected and loved all over the world.
Minestrone is made with vegetables including onions, beans, celery and carrots. Normally pasta or rice is added to the soup, too. There is no exact recipe for the “right” minestrone, which makes it a very exiting dish. It offers plenty of room for creativity. Every region has its own minestrone that contains signature ingredients and probably every cook makes it in a slightly different way. Some cooks prefer thick, almost stew-like versions; others prefer lightly cooked vegetables in a broth-type soup. While the soup’s texture can vary widely, Angelo Pellegrini, a famous food writer and academic argues that the “genuine” minestrone has to be a bean-based broth and borlotti beans (aka Roman beans) must be used in it.
Minestrone is also a dish with history. At around the 2nd Century BC, thanks to commerce an abundance of food passed through Rome. As a consequence, meat, bread and soups were introduced to the diet of Romans. Thick vegetable soups and stews became staple foods. The ancient cookbook of Marcus Apicius described a soup called “polus” as a common dish at that time. Polus contained faro (a food product made of grains), chickpeas, fava beans, onions, garlic, lard and green vegetables. Later, other ingredients appeared in this soup, including meat and wine. When potatoes and tomatoes were introduced in Europe in the mid 16th century, these were added to polus as well. The additions of ingredients contributed to the evolution of the dish and ultimately changed the character of the soup. Although it changed over time, it always remained part of “cucina povera”, aka the “poor kitchen”, which was often cooked from leftovers and it was normally consumed as a side dish. Later, between the 17th and 18th centuries the soup’s recipe was more or less formalized. From that era onwards, it only contained fresh vegetables and was offered as a meal for its own sake. The name “minestrone” formally appeared in 1871.
My favourite minestrone recipe was developed by Carolyn Scott-Hamilton and appeared on the website of Forks Over Knives. I slightly fine-tuned it to my own taste and to the ingredients available in my area. It’s a vegan and super healthy and it is an absolutely awesome soup that everyone must try!
- 1 medium-sized onion (cut into pieces)
- 2 stalks celery (sliced into narrow pieces)
- ½ bulb fennel (cut into small pieces)
- 2 medium gold potatoes (diced)
- 2-3 cloves garlic (finely chopped or crushed)
- 400 gram can of tomatoes (either plum or diced tomatoes are suitable)
- 2 litres of low-sodium vegetable broth
- 400 gram canned or dry beans (borlotti, fava or cannellini beans; if you use dry beans, soak them overnight)
- Salt (according to taste)
- Pepper (according to taste)
- 2 teaspoons of red-wine vinegar
- 1 zucchini (quartered and sliced)
- 1 or 2 bunches of Swiss chard or spinach leaves
- 300 gram fusilli or penne pasta (preferably durum or rice pasta)
- Boil the water in a large pot. Add onion, celery, fennel, potatoes and garlic, and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the can of tomatoes, stock, beans and season the mixture with salt and pepper, according to taste. Bring the soup to a boil. Once it is boiling, reduce the heat and simmer it for 10 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook on a low heat for further 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
- Stir the vinegar and the green leaves into the soup. Season with salt and pepper, according to taste.
- In the meantime, boil the pasta in a separate pot, according to packet instructions.
- Once the pasta is ready, serve it in soup bowls. Ladle the soup over the pasta and serve it immediately.
If you prefer a vegan version, you may serve it with ground pumpkin seeds or cheese substitutes. Otherwise, you may sprinkle some Parmesan on the soup, which enhances the wonderful flavours of this minestrone.