My Minestrone

Although it’s almost 80 degrees and feels summery here in Los Angeles today, most of the country is still in the grips of the wild mood swings of spring. Maybe it’s warm during the day but chilly at night? Perhaps spring showers are in your forecast? Perhaps you’re plagued with allergies that make your eyes weep and your nose seep? Well, as a general cure-all I recommend a bountiful, savory bowl of minestrone. This is my minestrone.

A comforting bowl of hearty minestrone is perfect for spring!

In Italy, or for that matter, here in America, there is no set recipe for minestrone. Minestrone is and can include almost anything you have on hand, reflecting both the wealth of your pantry as well as the season’s best vegetables. That being said, minestrone has come to mean a rich, hearty soup of seasonal vegetables with some sort of bean and a handful of pasta. I like to top it with fresh herbs and a scattering of grated parmesan.

This recipe starts off with a little pancetta, the wonderful Italian cured bacon, which can be omitted if you wish. Also I used homemade chicken broth, but feel free to substitute canned chicken broth or vegetable broth if you want a purely veggie soup. Conversely, if you want something even more substantial, add some chopped cooked chicken in at the end to make it more of a main-course soup. Also, feel free to mix and match veggies. Don’t like zucchini? Skip it, throw in some artichoke hearts. Whatever. Have fun. Play with your food.

You will need:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, cut into very small pieces
2 celery stalks, diced
1 small white onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 medium leek, white part only, washed well and chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
salt and pepper
6 ounces of tomato paste
1/2 cup of dry white wine
1 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes
10 cups of homemade chicken broth
1 bay leaf
several basil leaves
1 2-inch pieces of parmesan rind*
1 cup yellow wax beans, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup blue lake green beans, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup chopped broccoli
1 zucchini, chopped
3/4 cup ditalini pasta
1 14.5-ounce can of white beans
minced parsley
minced basil
coarsely grated parmesan cheese
hot crusty bread!

Do this:

In a large soup pot heat olive oil. Add pancetta and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned and crisp. Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon and reserve for later. To the fats in the pot add the celery, onion, carrot, leek, and garlic. Season generously with salt and pepper. Over medium-high heat cook, stirring often, until the veggies soften and brown a tiny bit at the edges.

Add tomato paste and stir into the veggies. Stir and cook until the tomato paste darkens a little. Add wine and scrap the bottom of the pot to release any paste or veggies that may have stuck. Cook until most of the liquid evaporates and the sharp tang of the alcohol dissipates. Add diced tomatoes and stir into the veggies. Cook for about one minute and then add the broth. Add bay leaf, basil, and parmesan rind. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. You may want to taste it and add a little bit of salt and pepper.

Simmer for about 30 minutes and then add the wax beans, blue lake beans, broccoli, and zucchini. Simmer for another 30 minutes. Add pasta and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Add white beans and reserved cooked pancetta. Simmer another 15 minutes. Taste again and season if necessary.

Garnish with herbs and parmesan. Serve with bread. Enjoy!

* True parmigiano reggiano from Italy is aged a couple of years and has a distinctively hard rind (outside edge). You can remove this rind and add it to broths. As it cooks it releases salts and glutamate that add a wonderful background richness to your soup. It’s a great way to add flavor without calories and I do it all the time. Don’t use the rind from cheap domestic “parmesan”. It’s crap!

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