Minestrone is a vibrant vegetable soup from Italy. I love having a pot of it in my fridge for a quick and nutritious meal. Throughout Italy there are many regional and seasonal recipes for minestrone. This one comes from Genoa in Liguria and is served with basil pesto which is delicious, although you can have it without. Instead you can finish with chopped flat-leaf parsley and olive oil. You can also add pasta to your minestrone if you like; see the variation after the recipe.
Minestrone improves with keeping so try to make it a day ahead. You can use other vegetables in season, such as brussels sprouts, leeks, broad beans, eggplant, silverbeet or English spinach. I sometimes use borlotti beans as well as cannellini, a can of each and include a few leaves of shredded cavolo nero as well.
This recipe makes a large amount of soup which is maybe what you want. Otherwise make it in half quantities for four or five servings. It will keep for three or four days in the fridge or a few months in the freezer. You won’t use all the pesto with the soup, but it is handy to keep in the fridge and have later with pasta.
If using dried cannellini beans, remember to soak them the night before.
Photography by Sophie Harper
- 2 x 400g cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, or 1 cup dried beans, soaked overnight
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 onions, sliced in half-moons
- 2 carrots cut into 1cm dice
- 2 celery sticks cut into 1cm dice
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 medium waxy potatoes, diced
- 2 medium zucchini, diced
- 150g green beans cut into 2.5cm lengths
- 1/4 (200g) Savoy cabbage or silverbeet, shredded
- 100g shelled peas (frozen)
- 2 litres cold water
- 1 x 400g can of tomatoes with juice, chopped
- 2 bay leaves and thyme sprigs
- 1 small handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 piece of parmesan rind if available
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pesto alla Genovese (see recipe below)
- parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- Italian bread
- Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic and a little salt. Fry gently until softened, about 10 minutes. Then add the remaining vegetables as they are prepared, and the soaked cannellini beans (if using dried ones).
- Stir all the vegetables over the heat for a few minutes and then pour in the cold water, tomatoes, herbs and the parmesan rind, if using. Season lightly at this stage, so as not to inhibit the cannellinis’ cooking; more salt can be added when they are tender.
- Bring to the boil and barely simmer, partially covered, for two and a half to three hours, stirring from time to time.
- Thirty minutes before the minestrone is ready, remove the parmesan rind, bay leaves and thyme stalks. If using canned cannellini beans, stir them in now and continue to simmer.
- Minestrone should be quite thick, but add more water if needed. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve the minestrone hot or at room temperature in warmer weather. Add a spoonful of pesto to each bowl if you like and pass the parmesan. Serve with Italian bread.
Variation with pasta
You will need 1 cup (150g) short tubular pasta to add to this quantity of minestrone. It will take 15-20 minutes to cook in the soup.
Tip: don’t add the pasta to cook in the minestrone until close to serving time as it will swell on standing and won’t be as nice. The same applies when freezing the soup. I suggest you add the pasta to cook proportionally with the amount of soup being served or cook it separately and then add to the soup.
Pesto alla Genovese (Basil pesto)
- 1 large bunch basil, washed and dried
- 1 small clove of garlic, chopped
- a generous handful pine nuts, lightly toasted (optional)
- pinch sea salt
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 30g freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Pick the basil leaves and sprigs from the coarse stems. Place in the food processor with the pine nuts, garlic and salt and pulse-chop briefly, stopping to scrape down the sides.
- Add the olive oil and process again, and then stir in the parmesan. Tip into a jar and pour a film of olive oil on top to keep the pesto green. Keep it in the fridge.
- Pesto made with a mortar and pestle is even better, if you don’t have a food processor.