Minestrone soup is one of those soups that every student would have learned how to cook. It’s tasty, cheap, and you can make enough to feed a household easily. These same features make it ideal for a family with growing teenagers, or to fuel a committed athlete.
My Italian cookbook tells me that minestrone is derived from minestra, which means soup. So I’ve held myself back from calling it minestrone soup, or soup soup, in the title. That said, we’ll probably continue in our Anglo ways and call it minestrone soup.
My cookbooks also tell me that it’s traditionally made from whatever vegetables are in the kitchen at the time, so listing the exact ingredients would be “nonsensical or even dictatorial”. In our world, this would be the meal you make to use up the last of the veges before the weekly shop.
But this is a soup we make because we like it, and I use the same veges most times because they give the overall flavour that we like. It’s one way of getting kids to eat eggplant and enjoy it, and why would any home cook mess with a good thing like that?
Our basic minestrone
- 1 cup of dried borlotti beans (see note)
- 1 onion (diced or finely sliced)
- 3 or 4 cloves of garlic
- 2 stalks of celery, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 1 small eggplant, diced
- 4-5 tomatoes, diced
- 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 1 or 2 cups of pasta
- Soak the beans overnight in a litre of water.
- Saute the onions and garlic in a little water (not oil – you don’t need it), then add the beans and more water. Simmer until the beans are softened, but not cooked through.
- Add the celery, carrot, eggplant and salt. Simmer until the vegetables are nicely cooked through but not mushy (30 minutes or more, depending on how well you dice the carrots and eggplant). You can add more water if the beans have soaked it all up.
- Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, pasta and basil and simmer until the pasta is ready (about 15 minutes). Add more water if you need to.
Dried or tinned beans? If you don’t want to bother with soaking beans, then you can use tinned beans instead. A cup of dried beans will expand to 2-3 cups after being soaked. The actual amount really isn’t too critical. It’s just a matter of taste.
You can use any type of beans. We used red kidney beans for years, and they make the soup a heartier meal. I personally like the lightness of the borlotti beans, and they are more agreeable with more of the family.
Do you need stock? Not really. You can add some chicken stock, but we prefer to keep this soup vegan to suit everyone in the family.
And cheese? The kids usually add mozarella (for fun) or parmesan (for the taste), depending on their mood on the day. I find the soup has enough flavour without it.
Source: We developed this over a couple of years and ended up with a combination of ideas from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook (1977) and Antonio Carluccio’s An Invitation to Italian Cooking (1986). Mollie adds ¼ cup of red wine, but we haven’t added that since the kids came along. It isn’t really needed. Antonio said the essential ingredient is Parma ham, but we’ve never bothered with that either. If you need the fat/oil for the taste, saute the onions in olive oil, or maybe add a little oil as you would for fassolatha.