Anyone of a certain age and living in the British Isles will share my experiences of Minestrone soup and see how far as a nation the British have come in terms of eating freshly made authentic cooking. My earliest memories are of a tomato ( ? ) soup with a few vegetables and broken spaghetti pieces, quite often made from a dried packet base. Twenty years ago, restaurants seemed to work on some mysterious unseen rota Monday Minestrone ( using the weekends leftover veg ! ), Tuesday Cream of Mushroom for their choice of soup of the day, fortunately for us all today chefs use seasonal produce and their knowledge and skills to bring us soups like Carrot and Coriander and recipes from around the world like Cantonese Crab and Sweetcorn or Patatas Riojanas from Spain.
At its best, a hearty, Italian classic, Minestrone is more of a stew of root vegetables and beans, sometimes with pasta or rice and with the addition of whatever other seasonal vegetables are available. It is the perfect lunchtime or supper course nourishing, filling and very tasty. Minestrone is like many Italian recipes everyone seems to have an authentic recipe and their own list of special ingredients, there isn’t even a clear picture if it is made with a vegetable or meat stock. Minestrone belongs to the style of cooking in Italy called “cucina povera” (literally “poor kitchen”) meaning dishes that have rustic, rural roots, as opposed to “cucina nobile” or the cooking style of the aristocracy and nobles. I love hearty style dishes and this type of recipe suits me down to the ground.
Minestrone has been served most certainly since Roman times and who am I to challenge a dish with such a pedigree, in fact even the name is a derivative of ‘ minestra ‘ or soup. Derived from the Latin ministrare , meaning “to administer”, the word reflects the fact that minestra was served out from a central bowl or pot by the figure of authority in the household. The major change from the Roman version would have been the addition of tomatoes sometime after their introduction to Europe in the mid-sixteenth century. Interestingly the ancient Romans believed in the health benefits of a sparse vegetarian diet of which soups such as Minestrone would have been a staple. This has given us the modern word ‘ frugal ‘ from the Latin fruges, the common name given to cereals, vegetables, and legumes.
If you want to be authentic then you should finish your Minestrone with small Bacon, Garlic and Parsley Dumplings and a great tip from an Italian friend of mine is to save your Parmesan rinds and add them to the simmering soup to add extra flavour, removing before you serve up the delicious soup. You can further enhance the following recipe stirring in two tablespoons of fresh pesto to make Minestrone alla Genovese.
100 ml good quality Olive Oil
1 large Leek, washed and sliced
2 large Onions, peeled and finely chopped
4 large Carrots, peeled and chopped
2 Courgettes, thinly sliced
300 gr Green Beans, cut into 2 cm pieces
8 stalks Celery, thinly sliced
½ Green Cabbage such as Savoy, washed and ripped into pieces
2 litres good homemade Vegetable Stock
454 gr tin Chopped Tomatoes
1 tablespoon Tomato Purée
2 large cloves of Garlic, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon chopped fresh Thyme
454 gr tin Flageolet or Cannellini beans, strained
100 gr dried Macaroni or Pasta shapes
Sea salt and freshly ground Black Pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a large thick-bottomed saucepan, over medium heat. Add the onions, leeks, carrots, celery and garlic. Gently cook for fifteen minutes without colouring, shaking the pan occasionally to prevent the root vegetables sticking. Stir in the stock, tomatoes, purée and thyme and bring to the boil and simmer gently for thirty minutes.
Add the tinned beans, courgettes and pasta then simmer for an additional five minutes. Add the green beans and cabbage then continue to simmer until pasta is al dente. Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving with bacon dumplings, Parmesan and finely chopped parsley.
4 oz smoked back bacon
1 oz finely chopped parsley
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 pinches of black pepper
In a blender pulse ingredients until a rough paste is formed. Oil fingers and form into small roughly shaped balls and place on baking tray. Lightly grill until cooked but not brown.