(Mostly) Easy Minestrone

Easy Minestrone.

Easy Minestrone.

mine1mine2Seeing as how we grow a lot of our own produce we should know better than to simply judge produce on its appearance. In fact, often the best tasting fruits and veggies are downright ugly, and certainly not the stuff you would see on supermarket shelves. But both in our garden and at the farmers market we are still suckers for a pretty face. Happily, these days you can get both good-looking and good tasting produce. Such is the case with some colorful red carrots we bought at the farmers market. Beautiful, crunchy and sweet…we got a bunch.

mine4So here we are back with our common challenge, “what do we do with all these carrots?” Well, with carrots we either eat them raw with a pinch of salt (never gets old), or we are making soup. Seeing as how salted carrots doesn’t make up much of a blog post, we went for soup. If we had any pork stock or ham hocks we would make “holiday hangover soup” or a garbure, but we don’t. We did have chicken stock and some left over pasta. Yup…time for Minestrone.

mine5mine6We won’t get into the history of Minestrone and we aren’t even sure there is a truly “traditional” recipe. But if you have some veggies, chicken or vegetable stock and some pasta, you can cobble together a decent Minestrone. Add a little cured pork, maybe some white beans, fresh herbs and simmer with a parmesan rind and you get something that gets pretty darn good. And feeds an army.

mine7mine8The recipe we use is a riff on a riff on a riff of an Ina Garten “Winter Minestrone” recipe, which itself is a riff on a very common formula. We change the recipe quite a bit, but we do use the same slate of winter vegetables, particularly some butternut squash that adds very nice sweet flavor to the soup along with a bit of spinach at the end that adds color and welcome bitter notes. We also use more cured pork (of course) dried beans we soak (yes, it is worth it), fresh herbs and the parmesan rind. Lots of flavor and not a lot of work other than chopping veggies.

mine9What you do need here is time. Chopping the veggies takes a while. Soaking beans (either a long or quick soak) requires some planning and advance work. And cooking the soup takes at least an hour. Basically this is a weekend dish. The good news is that, as is often the case with this type of soup, the Minestrone is better the next day. So you can make a batch on Sunday and serve it for dinner and then have the Minestrone as a very tasty lunch or light supper later in the week. A pretty good deal and a very good way to use of some of those lovely veggies you get at the market…or from your garden.

mine10Easy Minestrone:

(Adapted, somewhat, from Ina Garten)

Notes before you start:

  • You can use canned white beans but we heavily suggest rehydrating and cooking dried white beans. The simply taste better.
  • You can soak beans overnight (better) or quick soak the beans- just cover the beans with water, bring the water almost to a boil and then turn off the heat. Let the beans steep, covered, for an hour and then cook.

What You Get: Very tasty and healthy soup that will last for a few days.

What You Need: No special equipment required, just be ready to chop some veggies.

How Long? At least a few hours, mostly inactive other than chopping. Budget time to soak the beans.

Ingredients:

(Makes 8 big servings)

  • 1 pound dried white or cannellini beans (soaked overnight or quick-soaked)
  • Olive oil
  • 6 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups yellow onions, diced (diced= roughly 1/2 inch pieces)
  • 2 cups carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups celery, diced
  • 2 1/2 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 3 large cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram or oregano (optional)
  • 1 (26-ounce) can or box diced tomatoes
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 parmesan rind (optional)
  • 6 to 8 cups chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups cooked small pasta
  • 8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
  • Parmesan and/or Romano cheese for garnish
  • Italian parsley, for garnish

Assemble:

  1. Take the soaked beans and place them in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer until just tender, about an hour. When done, drain the beans and set aside.
  2. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the pancetta or bacon and cook over medium-low heat for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.
  3. Add the onions, carrots, celery, squash, thyme and oregano (if using) and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 more minutes, do not let the garlic burn.
  4. Add the tomatoes, 6 cups of the chicken stock, the bay leaf, pepper flake, parmesan rind (if using), 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Discard the bay leaf and parmesan rind. Add the beans and cooked pasta and heat through. Add more stock if the soup seems too thick.
  5. Just before serving, add the spinach, and stir until the spinach slightly wilts. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with a garnish of grated cheese and parsley.
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20 thoughts on “(Mostly) Easy Minestrone

  1. This is a little off topic, but I happen to be making a beef and vegetable stew with pancetta at this moment and I have a parmesan rind…dare I throw that in? Or should I wait and use it in something with a tomato-y base? I trust your judgment.

  2. I love the way you ‘cobbled’ this minestrone together! I have to disagree, however, on your concept of ‘time’. Preparing a minestrone does,yes, take some time … but it’s the kind of ‘mindless’ time that is a pleasure to experience. You can talk while making it, and exchange pleasantries with family members or partners … the finger work is really not hard at all … and very intuitive (just chop everything into more or less the same size). If you haven’t got beans that have soaked overnight, you can open a jar of beans … indeed, you can even leave the beans out altogether! The real ‘secret’ to minestrone is the quality of the ingredients! You can have a cocktail while it’s simmering, and lay the table, call your favorite aunt … check your facebook etc. And the wait is wonderfully worth it!

  3. This looks too good…wow!

    I recently started my own lifestyle/food blog (like yesterday haha) and I would love your feedback!! Would you mind checking it out? Thanks so much :)

  4. Yes! I love this soup! I think you’ve given my final Minestrone soup recipe. I love the addition of the squash and honestly, I think it’s perfect to my tastes. Just last evening I looked at the parmesan rind I’ve been saving and wondered what soup to make…I know now! I’m gushing, but it’s genuine. LOL! The weather has finally shifted to soup-worthy and I can just taste this with a crusty bread. I hope you and the family have a lovely weekend.

  5. I have tried minestrone but was never happy with it. But when I saw your recipe calls for parmesan rind, I did a face-palm. Of course! My earlier attempts did not include parmesan – doh!

    I’ve bookmarked this page so I can give this another try. Looking forward to it – thanks for posting!

    • Thanks! The rind really does help give that depth and umami flavor that keeps the soup interesting from the first to last bite…eating the soup the next day is also the way to go- much better (if you have the time).

  6. Sounds simply wonderful to me, chopping included (note to self, get the knife sharpened–I keep thinking of it when the knife sharpening guy is off work).

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