I had my first bowl of minestrone at The Olive Garden many years ago. As I recall, I liked the salad and breadsticks more than the soup. Since that introduction, I've ordered it many times in many places and have made a number of versions. One of my favorites is made by a dear friend from her mother's recipe. Perhaps I'll persuade her to share with you someday.
There are probably as many versions of minestrone among Italian cooks as there are of vegetable soup among American cooks. On both sides of the Atlantic, some argue that the soup(s) need to be made ahead and "rest" in the refrigerator for a few days before serving. My vote is for both enjoying a bowl as soon as the soup is ready and for enjoying a bowl a few days later. It also freezes well so make the whole recipe and squirrel away some for a snowy or rainy or sunny day.
The addition of the parmesan rind is a real boon to the soup. It takes us awhile to whittle away at a chunk of parmesan so I purchase the rinds at Whole Foods. I've also seen them in cheese shops. They are usually around three dollars for a pint (or so) that can be popped into the freezer until needed. You can omit the rind and the soup will still be very good.
While the typical bean for minestrone is the cannellini, the pantry held some dried flageolet. These small, kidney-shaped beans range from a creamy white to pale green and are French in origin. They cook up fairly quickly and hold their shape nicely.
Is there anything more comforting than a pot of soup bubbling away on the range?
8 ounces dried great northern, cannellini or flageolet beans
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped sweet onion
1/2 cup chopped leek, white and a bit of the light green stem
1/2 cup rough chopped carrots
1/2 cup sliced celery
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp crushed dried rosemary
2 cups diced tomatoes and their juices
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups water
1 small head Savoy cabbage (about 3 cups) cut into thin strips
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 medium russet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 medium zucchini, halved length-wise and cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 rind of parmesan (about 1/2 x 4 inches)
1. Rinse and sort through the beans. Put them in a large pot and cover with water. Soak for at least three hours to overnight. Drain.
2. In a heavy pot large enough to hold all the ingredients, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion, leek, carrot, and celery. Saute until just softened, about three minutes. Add the minced garlic and rosemary and saute for another minute.
3. Add the 4 cups of chicken stock and 4 cups water, the beans, tomatoes, cabbage and, depending on the saltiness of the stock, add more salt to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook at a simmer, covered, about an hour.
4. Add potatoes and zucchini. Simmer covered until the potatoes and zucchini are tender, another 20 to 25 minutes. Fifteen minutes before the soup is finished, drop in the parmesan rind.
5. Remove the parmesan rind before serving.
We like the soup made a few days ahead and refrigerated. Whenever you serve it, add some crusty bread and ENJOY!