Minestrone is a wonderfully versatile, hearty soup. There is no set recipe for this Italian staple, it has regional variations across its motherland as well as in its adopted countries such as here in Blighty. Basically, it is designed to be made with whatever is in season and this is what makes it so adaptable. You can make it using summery greens to echo a balmy Italian evening (courgettes, peas, broad beans, spring greens – as I have below) or a winter version (cabbage, potato, turnip) to give you comfort on a rainy British winter evening.
This soup is designed to use as much veg as you can whilst also containing a generous dose of carbohydrates in the form of rice, pasta and beans. I like to use risotto rice to give the soup a creamy texture, stellette pasta as I love the tiny star shape and borlotti beans – the beans of the Romans.
I would say use this recipe as a rough guide and feel free to make your minestrone to reflect your favourite tastes and flavours. Hate courgettes? Replace them with red and yellow peppers. Detest fennel? Leave it out. Love tomatoes? Swirl in some passatta when you add the stock.
The only stipulation I would make is ensure you start your minestrone with the carrot, onion and celery base. Italians call this the ‘soffritto’, French call it the ‘mirepoix’, and it’s the all important aromatic flavour base which gives this soup (plus countless other sauces, casseroles, soups and stews) its depth of flavour. Without it, you are likely to find yourself with rather insipid soup, lacking that oomph that makes it so delicious and satisfying. You have been warned!
Lug of olive oil and slice of butter
1 large onion
3 medium carrots
3 celery sticks
1 leek, washed and trimmed
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Seasonal veg of your choice (I used 3 grated courgettes, bowlful of peas, bowlful of broad beans, 1 large head of spring greens and 1 head of fennel)
Dash of vermouth
2 litres of chicken stock
2-3 handfuls of arborio rice
2-3 handfuls of stellette pasta (or other small soup pasta)
1 tin of borlotti beans
Begin by chucking your onion, carrots, celery and leeks in the food processor and whizzing up until finely chopped (or chop by hand if you prefer).
Heat up the oil and butter and when shimmering, add in your chopped up veg and sauté gently for about 10 minutes until much of the liquid from the veg has evaporated.
Add the garlic and sauté for a further minute, then add the grated courgette and fennel and cook down for about ten minutes, You don’t need to be scientific about timings here, the trick is to just add the veg in the order of cooking time and you want to evaporate some of the water from the veg before you add more in.
Add in your peas and broad beans and then make a well in the centre and add in the dash of vermouth. Let it sizzle and then stir it all in. Chuck in your handfuls of arborio rice, stellette and borlotti beans, followed by the stock.
Bring to a simmer and leave to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so nothing catches on the bottom. When you have about 5 minutes left to go, add in your shredded spring greens.
At this point I also added in the rind of a parmesan wedge as I had one handy, you can leave this to simmer with the soup and it adds a gorgeous depth or flavour. Don’t worry if you don’t have one though. When it’s ready just add in a good grating of parmesan and lots of chopped basil. Add salt and pepper and have a taste to check you’ve got the right level of seasoning.
Serve with an extra grating of parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil and more basil sprinkled on top.
- Makes about 8 servings
- Eat on its own or with a wedge of focaccia if you’re feeling extra hungry
- If you leave this to cool and then reheat, you’ll notice the risotto rice will have absorbed most of the liquid so add a bit more stock or water.
- Suitable for freezing
- Switch to vegetable stock and use a vegetarian alternative to parmesan if making for veggies
- Leave out the pasta and add in a diced potato to make it gluten free
- Leave out the parmesan to make it vegan