A steaming bowl of well flavored broth filled with hearty beans, whole wheat pasta, and fresh vegetables; how could you go wrong? Minestrone soup is welcome at most tables, is adaptable to any season of the year, and can be a meal in itself.
Minestrone soup has many interpretations depending on geographical regions, whats available at the market, and the person preparing it. It almost always has some kind of bean, pasta, and mix of fresh vegetables. Minestrone can be finished and served with a drizzle of flavorful extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or swirled with a pungent pesto. Any way you make it, consider the season you are experiencing, let the farmer's market inspire you, then prepare. In the summer, use a light broth with diced summer squash, fresh tomatoes, green beans, yellow wax beans, whole basil leaves, orzo pasta, small white beans, and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. In the autumn, consider peppers, butternut squash, cranberry beans, leeks, a small shaped pasta, and a dollop of basil pesto. In the winter, go with root vegetables such as turnips, leeks, rutabagas, carrots, potatoes, celery root, hard squashes, large white beans, whole wheat pasta, and a grating of fresh Parmesan. Below is my recipe for a spring minestrone, but please, adapt to your tastes. Good vegetables in the spring include asparagus tips, cleaned and quartered small artichokes, fava beans, carrots, cauliflower, and spinach. And remember, there are many more options than what I listed above, so be creative.
Hearty Spring Minestrone
-1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
-1 leek, white and light green parts only, cleaned, cut in half, and sliced thin
-1/2 fennel bulb, diced small
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 large carrot, peeled and dice small
-9-10 cremini mushrooms, sliced
-2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme
-6 cups vegetable stock
-2 canned plum tomatoes, diced small
-12 snap peas, de-stringed and cut into thirds
-2 large handfuls fresh spinach
-3 cups cooked, whole wheat pasta such as spirals, or elbows
-1 15oz can rinsed kidney beans
-1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
-Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add in the leeks and fennel, and sweat for about 2-3 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften around the edges. Add in the garlic and cook for about 1 minute more. Add in the carrots, mushrooms, and chopped fresh thyme, and cook until the mushrooms begin to wilt and release their liquid, about 3 minutes. Add a good sprinkling of salt and pepper. Add in the vegetable stock and diced tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, or until well flavored and the vegetables are tender. Add in the snap peas, spinach, pasta, and beans. Bring back to a simmer and cook until the snap peas are tender but still bright green, about 5 minutes more. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as necessary. Finnish with the chopped fresh parsley and a drizzle of olive oil or sprinkling of Parmesan.