Garden Minestrone: Soothing Italian Potpourri in a Soup Pot

by DerdriuMarriner

The endless comfort, creativity, and versatility of minestrone, Italy's gift to the world of soups, is profiled. My personal favorite of this enchanting menu pleaser is shared.

Minestra is an Italian word which means “soup.” The suffix –one means “big.” The Italian soup which is called minestrone therefore means “the big soup.”

Minestrone is so called because of its reputation as a multi-ingredient soup. It may have many vegetable ingredients and therefore be considered vegetarian. Or it may add meat and pasta or rice to the vegetable ingredients.

hearty, colorful minestrone:  enticing fragrances, tastes, and textures
hearty, colorful minestrone: enticing fragrances, tastes, and textures

Ingredients for Minestrone

 

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 diced medium red onion

1 medium carrot, cut into rounds or diced

2 minced garlic cloves

6 cups low-sodium broth, chicken or vegetable

  • variation suggestion:  use both chicken and vegetable, in equal proportions of 3 cups apiece

2 cups water

4 plum tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped (or diced)

  • Note: I save the core and seeds to add to puréed stews.

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground

black pepper

One 19-ounce can cannellini (white kidney beans), drained

  • Note: When I have time, I use dry cannellini, which I soak overnight.
  • Note: I set aside the drained liquid to add to puréed stews or to water house and garden plants.

2 turnips, chopped

  • suggestion:  chop greens as well and include, along with chopped roots, in minestrone

1 yellow summer squash,  chopped, diced, or sliced

1 cup uncooked, small shell pasta (conchiglie), or bow ties (farfalle)

1 Tablespoon fresh basil, chopped

1 Tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

  • personal preference:  flat-leaf parsley (Petrosellum crispum var. neapolitanum)

1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

1 Tablespoon fresh thyme or lemon thyme, chopped

1/3 cup freshly grated, or shaved, Parmigiano-Reggiano

 

Italian parsley (Petroselinum crispum var. neapolitanum), also known as flat-leaf parsley, is more flavorful than curly leaf parsley (Petroselinum cripsum var. crispum).
Italian parsley 'Gigant d'Italia"
Italian parsley 'Gigant d'Italia"

Instructions

Here is what needs to be done:

 

1. In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.

  • Add the carrots and red onion. Cook for about 5 minutes, until they start to soften.
  • Add the garlic, and cook for about 1 minute, until its aroma is discernible.
  • Into the soup pot add tomatoes, oregano, and black pepper.
  • While stirring, gently add broth and 2 cups of water.
  • Bring to a boil over high heat.
  • Reducing heat to medium-low, simmer for about 45 minutes.

2. Add cannellini, turnips, summer squash, zucchini, and pasta. Increase heat to medium-high and simmer.

  • Add the cannellini beans, green beans, zucchini, and pasta. Increase to high heat and bring to a bubble.
  • Then reducing heat to medium-low, simmer for about 5-7 minutes.
  • Add basil, parsley, rosemary, and thyme for the last few minutes of the simmer.

Remove from heat.

Sprinkle grated cheese onto individual servings as desired.

 

White (rear), green (middle), and Bath (front) varieties of asparagus
White (rear), green (middle), and Bath (front) varieties of asparagus

Variations

 

Asparagus, when in season, is a favorite addition to minestrone. Especially colorful is including three varieties: white, green with purple accents, and Bath.

I especially like to include mushrooms and water chestnuts with asparagus for they interact well in broths.

White or red radishes also work well with asparagus, mushrooms, and water chestnuts.

My asparagus minestrone also features roasted or toasted pine nuts and leeks.

 

Five quintessential vegetables for hearty French beef stew, pot-au-feu ("pot on the fire"), also are excellent ingredients for minestrone.
Carrots, garlic, leeks, onions, turnips
Carrots, garlic, leeks, onions, turnips

Profile of minestrone: vegetables

 

The recipe for the soup can be quite variable since it intends to use what is on hand. For example, it can include such meat as bacon, chicken or ham. It can incorporate pasta or rice. It always includes vegetables.

There nevertheless are no set vegetables in the preparing and the serving of minestrone. But all is not left to vague interpretations in the traditional making of minestrone and its modern updates. One general rule stands out: the use of whatever vegetables may be on hand.

So the soup has a strong local basis. It looks to what is available in the immediate locale. It specifically makes do with what is most readily on hand in the particular household at the time of the gathering together of ingredients.

Minestrone specifically expresses an especially strong local commitment to using leftovers. It also represents a commitment to the use of such difficult vegetables as turnips which generally may not be appreciated let alone consumed whole without lengthy cooking with other more popular ingredients. It therefore supports the investment in and recycling of the sustainable edible resources in the area in question.

Certain vegetables nevertheless are more likely to show up in minestrone than others. Specifically, those who consume minestrone often expect to find certain vegetables. The following vegetables therefore may be found among the soup’s ingredients:

  • Carrots (Daucus carota);
  • Celery (Apium graveolens L.);
  • Green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris);
  • Onions (Allium cepa);
  • Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum);
  • Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum).

Other common vegetables may include the following:

  • Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis);
  • Cabbage (Brassica oleracea);
  • Fava beans (Vicia faba);
  • Garlic (Allium sativum);
  • Lentils (Lens culinaris);
  • Mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus);
  • Turnips (Brassica rapa).

The vegetables in minestrone act to give the soup bulk, nutrition and taste. They also cooperate in the formation of the broth (brodo) in which they float. The broth is water to which each vegetable subsequently simmers in slight color and subtle taste.

But both also can be stock to which the vegetable ingredients are added. The stock may be a leftover or it may be a broth whose color and taste the minestrone maker seeks to add to the current soup in the making. Oftentimes, the stock which is used instead of fresh water will be the product of a previous or separate heating of beans until one distinct aroma, flavor and taste are formed to enhance the current minestrone in the works.

 

flowering rosemary: flowers are sweeter than the leaves, which are mainstays of Italian and Mediterranean cuisine.
flowering rosemary: flowers are sweeter than the leaves, which are mainstays of Italian and Mediterranean cuisine.

Profile of minestrone: herbs and sauce

 

Herbs and sauce also can be standard ingredients along with the above-mentioned vegetables. In fact, the variety called minestrone alla genovese is famous for its consistent use of herbs and for its unique sauce. The phrase literally means “big soup in the Genoese style.” It translates more succinctly as Genoese minestrone.

Minestrone alla genovese is a general specialty of the Italian region of Liguria. But it is called Genoese because Genoa (Genova), the regional capital city, is the soup's specific point of origin within Liguria. The Ligurian region is located in northwestern Italy along the Italian Riviera (Riviera ligure) which borders France to the west and the Ligurian Sea (Mar Ligure) to the south.

Pesto (pesto genovese) is the unique sauce for which Genoese minestrone is famous. The name of the sauce relates to the Genoese dialect of Italian. The Genoese turn the past participle pestato (“crushed,” “grounded,” “pounded”) into pesto.

Pesto sauce brings together basil (Ocimum basilicum), garlic (Allium sativum) and pine nuts (Pinus spp). It also includes olive oil and Parmesan (formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano) and Sardo (fiore sardo, pecorino sardo) cheeses. The  ingredients will be ground until they form into a green cream. The sauce will be made by adding the wet ingredients to the cream of crushed dry ingredients.

 

The essence of Minestrone alla genovese is defined by its famed pesto sauce, a blend of basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano and Sardo).
green grandeur of pesto
green grandeur of pesto

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Teresa Giudice for generously sharing culinary treasures and family anecdotes in her beautiful cookbook, Skinny Italian.
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

My recipe is a variation of a classic recipe shared by Teresa Giudice, "Giardino Minestrone," on page 216 of her excellent Italian cook book, Skinny Italian.

 

turnips (Brassica rapa): both roots and greens participate wonderfully in soups.
turnips (Brassica rapa): both roots and greens participate wonderfully in soups.

Sources Consulted

 

Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). La cucina: the regional cooking of Italy. Translated by Jay Hyams. New York : Rizzoli, 2009.

Castelvetro, Giacomo. The Fruit, Herbs and Vegetables of Italy (1614). Translated and introduced by Gillian Riley. Devon, England: Prospect Books, 2012.

Giudice, Teresa, with Heather Maclean. Skinny Italian. New York: Hyperion, 2010.

Riley, Gillian. The Oxford Companion to Italian Food. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

 

minestrone: year-round creativity
minestrone: year-round creativity
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Skinny Italian: Eat It and Enjoy It - Live La Bella Vita and Look Great, Too!

cookbook by Teresa Giudice with Heather Maclean
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DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/19/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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DerdriuMarriner on 10/13/2013

jptanabe, Minestrone is definitely my favorite soup for autumn. I love its role in using up extras and leftovers. It may be a recycler of a soup but it definitely does not taste or look "second rate"!
Thank you for visiting and commenting.

jptanabe on 10/12/2013

Have to admit Minestrone is a favorite of mine! Now the weather is cooling off I'll be having it a lot. So many good suggestions here of things to include!

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