Thursday, September 15, 2011

Minestrone, Italian Vegetable soup

 “Minestra” is the Italian word for soup. Minestrone means “the big soup” and refers to the dish being full of vegetables.

To define a recipe for minestrone is impossible. Every region, every season, and every family have their own recipe. Some use pork fat as a condiment and some simple olive oil, in a pure vegetarian fashion. Some recipes, in Rome for example, call for pasta in it, some don’t. Some are richer in legumes, cabbage, or herbs. In Liguria they add pesto to the minestrone that gives a very flavorful basil aroma to the soup.

My mother was used to make this soup with all the different vegetables that are left in the refrigerator at the end of the week: A good way to avoid wasting food. And if she had a piece of parmigiano or pecorino romano, she would add it to the pot to make it even tastier.

Any kind of seasonal vegetables can be used in a minestrone.  The vegetables are added in short intervals, the tender ones at the end, to avoid overcooking them. My recipe is simple and leafy. Add beans or green peas or cabbage for a more hearty texture.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 oz (60 gr) pancetta or un-smoked bacon, finely diced
4 oz (100 gr) onion, finely chopped
4 oz (100 gr) carrots, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
1 lb (450 gr) potatoes, in small dice
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, finely chopped
4 oz (100 gr) fresh tomatoes, diced
4 cups (1 liter) homemade broth, or good quality store bought
salt and pepper
1/2 lb (220 gr) zucchini, diced
4 oz (100 gr) lettuce, chopped
4 oz (100 gr) beets, choped
4 oz (100 gr) short "ditali" pasta,  or spaghetti broken  in ½ inch (1 - 2 cm) pieces
4 tablespoons freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

Put in a pot the extra-virgin olive oil, and turn the heat to medium. Add the chopped bacon. When the bacon is browned add the onion. Sauté shortly until the onion becomes soft and translucent. 

Stir in the pot the carrot and celery. Cook shortly.

Add the diced potatoes. Cook for about 1 minute.

Stir in the parsley, and tomatoes. 

Add broth, salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.

After about 10 minutes add zucchini, lettuce, and beets. Cook for 10 more minutes.
 When the vegetables are half cooked but still firm, add the pasta and cook for the time indicated by the manufacturer or taste until is firm but not overcooked (al dente). Correct salts if necessary, add a pinch of pepper, and the the grated parmigiano. Serve warm in soup plates or bowls. Serve lukewarm in the hot season. Add fresh grated parmigiano to the individual dishes, if you like.