I am not a frequent soup maker, but I do have a few go-to recipes that I rotate depending on the time of year and season. This minestrone recipe is an all year round soup and can be adapted according to whatever vegetables you have in your fridge or take a fancy to in the supermarket. Just as in Italy, there is no one correct version of minestrone. For example, if you have a minestrone in Northern Italy in the Ligurian region, it will probably include aubergine, courgettes and most definitely pesto, the famous sauce that originated in Genoa, the capital of Liguria. In Milan, the soup will have bacon lardons and long grain rice. In southern Italy in the region of Campania, it will have peppers, pancetta, potatoes and pasta. And in Puglia be prepared to like turnip tops, the main ingredient of that region's minestrone. The only thing I insist on when making this soup is a good chicken stock. This time I used a stock I made from a roast chicken carcass we had for a Sunday lunch but feel free to use a good chicken stock powder such as Essential Cuisine (all their stock mixes are excellent, and easily obtained on Amazon, Lakeland and some good farm shops). By the way, Essential Cuisine haven't a clue who I am so don't think I am endorsing their stocks for any other reason - they're just the best I have come across. Vegetarians can use vegetable stock, either home made or powder. Again, either Essential Cuisine vegetable stock or Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon Powder, which you can buy in most supermarkets. Be a bit careful on the Marigold stock though, as although very tasty it can be a bit salty if you use too much. As the soup simmers, I also throw in a piece of Parmesan rind, you know, that hard bit at the end of the Parmesan wedge you would need an oxy acetylene torch to cut through.
Instead of throwing it away or giving it to the dog, just wrap it in foil and stick it in the fridge until the next time you get round to making some soup. Drop it in and fish it out at the end of cooking, let it dry then wrap it up, and put it back in the fridge until the next time. It gives a lovely flavour to the soup, not overpowering (unless your rind is the size of the fridge door) but that slightly mysterious savoury hint you can't quite put your finger on.
INGREDIENTS (serves 4-6)
100g diced pancetta or bacon lardons (vegetarians just leave these out)
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 sticks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large red pepper, diced
2 small leeks, washed and roughly chopped
1 bouquet garni
1 generous tablespoon of tomato ketchup
1 decent sized piece of Parmesan rind
About 750ml of stock or enough to cover veg
50g short pasta, such as macaroni
Your choice of the following vegetables.
Green beans, handful, roughly chopped
Fresh peas, handful, podded
Courgettes, sliced into half moons
Cavolo Nero or Savoy cabbage, shredded Cannelloni or Borlotti beans, 1 can drained (optional)
Fry the pancetta or bacon lardons in a little olive oil until golden then add the diced onion, carrot and celery (referred to as the soffritto in Italy, and used as the base of many dishes). Sauté for a few minutes then add the garlic and continue to gently fry until softened a bit. Throw in the rest of your vegetables and cook for a few minutes then add a good squirt of ketchup followed by the stock and the bouquet garni. Stir everything well together and bring to a slight boil. Drop in your Parmesan rind, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 30-40 minutes. The pasta goes in 10 minutes before the end along with your beans if you are using them. The total cooking time depends on how firm or soft you like your veg. I like my veg on the soft side but still with a little firmness - I still have all my own teeth! But it's entirely up to you.
Taste the soup when you think it is ready and season with salt and black pepper to taste. Fish out the Parmesan and bouquet garni and serve the soup with a sprinkling of Parmesan or even pesto if you've recently been to Genoa. Buon appetito!