Right about this time of the year I dig deep into my recipe box and pull out my recipe for Minestrone. I also spend a good ten minutes searching inside my freezer for that old rind of Parmesan cheese I put away in the summer. The soup really doesn' t need a recipe, I know well what goes into it, but at my age, I just don't trust myself to remember all the extra goodies that I have added in the past to make it my own.
There is no right or wrong minestrone...there is just good minestrone. In the north of Italy you will find rice in your soup, in the south, beans, or pasta and tomatoes. The only constants are staples like carrots, celery, onions and potatoes. At the end what you want is a dense and mellow soup that recalls no vegetable in particular, but all of them at once. Don't leave out the potato, it gives it depth and helps to thicken the soup to its right consistency.
I prefer to use beef broth rather than chicken. I also encourage you to make your own broth out of flank or another inexpensive cut of beef. It makes a tremendous difference and it doesn't take long. I usually keep some in the freezer for making soups in the winter.
The things that will make this soup especial and not just good are:
Homemade beef stock
San Marzano tomatoes
Old rind of good Parmigiano Reggiano
This soup is better the next day so plan ahead. It's also a great way to clean your refrigerator after the holidays! It will keep in your refrigerator for 1 week. Although I have never done it, it should freeze well.
1/2 cup olive oil
3 Tbs butter
1 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
2 cups peeled, diced potatoes
1 1/2 cups canned cannellini beans.**
2 cups diced zucchini (about 2 medium zucchini)
1 cup diced green beans
3 cups shredded cabbage, preferable Savoy cabbage
6 cups homemade meat broth or 2 cups canned beef broth mixed with 4 cups of water
The crust of a 2 to 4 inch long piece of Parmesan cheese scraped clean (optional, but well worth it!)
2/3 cup canned San Marzano Italian tomatoes with their juice
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Handful of chopped fresh chopped basil leaves for garnish.(optional, best in summer)
Choose a stockpot large enough for all ingredients. Put in oil, butter and the sliced onion and cook over medium-low heat until the onion wilts and is pale gold in color, but not browned. Add the diced carrots and cook for 2 to 3 minutes , stirring once or twice. Repeat this procedure in sequence with the celery, potatoes, zucchini, and green beans, cooking each one a few minutes and stirring. Then add the shredded cabbage and cook for about 6 minutes giving pot the occasional stir.
Add the broth, the cheese crust, the tomatoes and their juice and a little bit of salt. (Careful with salt if using canned broth). Cover and cook at a very slow boil for at least 3 hours. If necessary, you can stop the cooking at any time and resume later. Minestrone must never be thin and watery, so cook until it is soupy thick.
Fifteen minutes before the soup is done, add the canned or cooked dry beans. Just before turning off the heat, remove the cheese crust, swirl in the grated cheese, then taste and correct for salt.
*I have added corn or spinach on occasion. You could also add black beans but not too much.
***Goya, Cento and Progresso carry them
Recipe adapted from Marcella Hazan