Growing up, whether or not I was going to have a good day depended a rather disproportional amount on what my mother was making for dinner. Often, I was already thinking about before I was even finished with breakfast. “What are you making tonight, Mom?,” I’d ask. I needed to know now, because if I didn’t like the answer, then there was pretty much no point in getting out of bed. And if I did like it, or even really liked it, then facing the prospect of another long, miserable, torturous School Day became something close to tolerable.
Minestrone soup was, for while, number one on the list of things that meant that I could endure. And now, as an adult, I make it every chance I get. Minestrone soup is an Italian vegetable soup with pasta and beans. I love it because it is first of all delicious and healthy and the perfect comfort food, but also because it’s so versatile. You can really use almost any vegetable at all, with only a few exceptions (like red beets) and it’s an excellent way to get rid of all the vegetables that you might have hanging around that are getting a little old and need to be used up. For me this is obviously a godsend since I’m constantly finding tons of vegetables that really need to be used within a few days. This soup makes it so easy. I made this soup especially often when we were in Italy because we kept finding the perfect ingredients (lots of fennel). Just chop everything up and throw it all in my giant pot and in an hour, you’ve got dinner. The fact that it’s made in one pot is also fantastic for me— doing the dishes in the bus without running water is a pain.
In case anyone is looking for a recipe, there’s tons of different ones on the internet, but here’s my two cents:
Hobo Adapted Minestrone Soup
Broth (either chicken or vegetable)
Pasta or Other Dried Carb (anything sort of smallish)
Tomatoes (either fresh and chopped, or in a can and diced)
**Tomatoes can be left out if they have to be.
Canned or soaked beans (cannelloni beans are classic, but any bean will get the job done)
Having your typical onion-carrot-celery base is great, but not totally necessary. I, for example, almost never have celery, so that often gets left out. In my opinion, onions and carrots are sort of non negotiable but you can decide for yourself. Things like zucchini, eggplant, peas, cauliflower, fennel, leeks, parsnips, celery root, etc are all great. It’s nice to also have one leafy green, like spinach or kale or whatever else you have.
Herbes de Provence
Any hard cheese (Parmigiana is traditional, obv)
Fresh parsley if you have it, because why not
NOTE: Want bread with your soup? Click here for my homemade panbread recipe!
Sauce onions and garlic in olive oil along with any harder vegetables like carrots, celery, parsnips, etc. You can cut the vegetables however you want, just make sure they are all sort of the same size, and realize that the more country-style your soup is (that is, how big your pieces are), the longer you’ll have to let the soup simmer in order to get everything cooked through. After a few minutes add any softer vegetable, like zucchini, and sauté a minute longer. Then throw in your tomatoes. If you’re using fresh, you’ll need to let it sit for about five minutes until the tomatoes get liquidey. Put the lid on and make sure you stir occasionally so that it doesn’t start burning on the bottom. Pour in your broth and bring to a boil. Sprinkle in your Herbes de Provence and fennel seeds (don’t use too many fennel seeds, they’re pretty strong– it goes without saying that if you’re averse to this flavor, leave these out) and let simmer for at about 20-25 minutes. Then add canned beans and let simmer for another five minutes. Check to make sure the hardest of your vegetables can be pierced with a fork. It can? Good. Now you can throw in your pasta. When it’s done, ladle into bowl, sprinkle with fresh parsley if you’re being fancy, and grate your hard cheese over it. Yum.
NOTE: IF YOU HAVE A TON OF STALE BREAD, which I always do, you could also make bread dumplings and substitute them in for the pasta. OR, when I was in Tuscany I learned that they often throw chunks of leftover bread into the leftover minestrone and leave it to soak overnight before reheating the next day. If you leave it yet another night and reheat it yet another time, you can officially call it Ribollita, a famous and delicious Tuscan soup.