According to Marcella Hazan, the character of an Italian soup depends on two things: the season and the place.
If you plopped yourself into summertime on the coast of southern Italy for example, your bowl of soup would likely be a fragrant chemistry of ripe tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and sparkling fresh seafood; during colder months further north in Tuscany there’d be a hearty stick-to-your-ribs stew – ribollita – containing dried beans, potatoes, stale bread and winter vegetables like cabbage and kale.
Classic minestrone soup is a versatile recipe, easy to put together any time of year, comfortably bridging transitions between seasons. My summer minestrone would definitely include fresh tomatoes, zucchini and lots of basil, but the soup I made yesterday was based on what I have in the winter pantry: carrots, onion, fennel bulb, cooked Italian beans and a little tomato paste. I stirred in cooked whole wheat elbow macaroni, blanched green beans and dark green spinach too.
Sprinkle with a little freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, serve with crusty bread and call it dinner.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
3 or 4 finely chopped garlic cloves
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Salt and fresh ground pepper
2 cups cooked dried beans or canned kidney beans, drained
Large handful green beans, blanched in salted boiling water 3 minutes; cut into 2-inch pieces
Small bunch dark leafy greens: spinach, chard or kale, washed
2 cups cooked bite size pasta, such as elbows, ditali or tiny shells
Grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, for serving
- Heat the olive oil in a large heavy soup pot. Add the carrots and onion. Cook for a 3-4 mintues; add the celery and fennel and cook a few minutes more to soften.
- Stir in the garlic, tomato paste and about 1 teaspoon salt and some black pepper. Pour in 6 cups water and bring to a simmer. Add the dried beans, partially cover the pot and cook 15 minutes at a simmer.
- Just before serving, stir in the green beans and spinach. Taste the soup and add more salt and pepper if you want to. Sprinkle with cheese at the table.
- Like all soup, this tastes great made ahead a day or two and reheated.