COOK: Minestrone Soup with Pesto
Is there ever a bad time to not enjoy a bowl of minestrone soup? Even at the end of a hot summer’s day, a bowl of chunky vegetable soup, seasoned with just enough herbal nutty sauce and a slab of crusty bread slathered with butter which must be accompanied by an Oregon Pinot Noir (far superior to California Pinot Noir) is simply a delicious event.
Minestrone is comfort food for any season. It’s nutritious, vegetarian (though Italian sausage would be a perfect addition) and offers lots of fiber.
Wikipedia reports that minestrone soup is an ancient soup served when Rome was just a Kingdom which is long before it became an Empire. When Rome conquered Italy in the 2nd century BC, it controlled the roads and networks that enabled trade and began to import products that quickly made their way into the early Italian diet. This strategy of importing food products that alter a culture’s diet has been used throughout history, and spices and herbs have played a major role in the search for flavor and aroma.
The ancient recipe included onion, cabbage, beans, garlic, lentils, carrots and asparagus. Tomatoes and potatoes were added after their introduction to Europe in the 16th century.
Like many soups, it likely originated as a result of boiling whatever vegetables and other ingredients were available. Today, there is no fixed recipe and like the curries of SE Asia, there are as many minestrone recipes as there are cooks.
I make a variety of pestos (see my Pesto Primer) during the summer and freeze them in ice cube trays. I use pesto throughout the year as a seasoning for pasta, bread, pizza, vegetables, chicken, fish and in soups. This minestrone is not fixed: use what you have in your pantry and refrigerator but I think pesto is mandatory!
MINESTRONE SOUP INGREDIENTS
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 carrots, sliced
3 stalks celery with leaves, sliced
1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
10 cups vegetable or chicken broth or bone broth
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups of cooked & rinsed cannellini beans, borlotti beans or kidney beans * See my note on beans
1 medium sized zucchini, halved and sliced into ½ inch slices
1 red pepper, cut into ½ inch chunks
½ cup of fresh or frozen peas
1 teaspoon each dried oregano & thyme
½ cup basil pesto (homemade or store-bought)
2 cups of cooked orzo, broken spaghetti or small elbow macaroni (cooked rice could be substituted) * See my note on pasta
In a large soup pot, heat olive oil and add carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Saute over high heat for 5 minutes. Add stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add cooked beans, zucchini, bell pepper, oregano and thyme. Simmer uncovered until vegetables are al dente, about 10 minutes (cook longer if you prefer them more tender).
Stir in pesto and peas and cook uncovered until flavors are blended (about 10 minutes.)
While soup is simmering, cook the pasta to al dente (cooked ‘to the tooth’ - firm to the bite)
Scoop cooked, warm pasta or rice into a bowl and ladle soup over it. Top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
*Beans: Italian soups often feature beans as a substitute for meat. Cannellini beans are small white tender beans, and borlotti beans (AKA cranberry beans) are larger beans that have a strong flavor and texture. I’ve also used red kidney beans in minestrone as well as lentils. Use what you like.
*Pasta: I prefer the slightly-larger-than-a-rice kernel pasta called orzo for most of my vegetable soups. If you don’t have it, break strands of spaghetti pasta into smaller pieces. I prefer to cook my pasta separate from the soup; many recipes suggest adding the uncooked pasta into the soup. But I have found that this often thickens the soup, affecting both the texture and flavor of the soup.