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January 03, 2006

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone soup is a comfort food for me. A very twenty-first century kind of comfort food, perhaps, because for me the canonical minestrone, the one I have all the fond childhood memories of my mother preparing for me, comes out of a can: Progresso minestrone. (This shouldn't be taken to imply that my mother wasn't one hell of a home cook. She was, and I've got many fond memories of her homemade dishes. But she never, as far as I can recall, made minestrone from scratch.)

Progresso makes a fine canned soup, as canned soup goes. (I always keep a can of their lentil soup in my pantry for those nights when I'm too brain-dead to cook, too tired eat out, too starving to order in.) But sometimes, one wants something a little bit fresher. So, I started looking around for a minestrone soup recipe. I found quite a few. Some were too gussied up. (I'm sure a minestrone with pesto, or with butternut squash, would be fantastic, and I'll probably try those recipes at some point, but neither fits my canonical conception of minestrone.) Some were too stripped down. (A good minestrone needs to be a riot of beans and vegetables in a bowl. Anything less, and it might be a good vegetable soup, but it's not minestrone.) Many eschewed pasta. (One recipe disdained the use of pasta in minestrone as a poor man's way of stretching the soup. That may be true. Pasta in minestrone may not be authentic. Screw authentic, though - I've just admitted that the minestrone nearest and dearest to my heart is made by Betty Crocker. I say minestrone needs pasta.)

So, here's what I concocted.


  • 1/4 lb. pancetta, cut into small pieces (or you could use bacon)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 yellow summer squashed, halved and then sliced.
  • a good big handful of string beans, trimmed and cut into 1 to 2 inch lengths
  • 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes in tomato juice (do not drain)
  • 1 15 oz. can of chick peas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15 oz. can of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 4 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced (I don't think mushrooms are usually part of minestrone, but I had some leftover from the previous night's dinner, so I used them, and they were good.
  • 4 oz. uncooked whole wheat penne rigate, or other pasta (Ideally, you'd use something a bit smaller than penne rigate, like ditalini, or elbow macaroni, or small shells. I wanted to use whole wheat pasta, and the only two whole wheat varieties I could find on short notice were penne and spaghetti.)
  • 4 cups chicken broth. (Actually, I think this needed a bit more liquid - the leftovers I put away ended up being more of a minestrone stew, without much liquid. Perhaps 6 cups next time. I used Imagine organic chicken broth.)
  • Dried oregano, thyme, and dried pepper flakes to taste.

The steps:

  1. In the bottom of a stock/soup pot, cook the pancetta over medium-high heat until it is browned and crispy. Remove it with a slotted spoon, and place on paper towels to drain. Try not to eat all of the wonderful, salty, crispy pancetta as you complete the rest of the recipe.

  2. If there is more fat rendered from the pancetta than you need to cook the vegetables in, pour some off. Add the onion, carrot, celery and mushrooms, and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent. Add squash and green beans, and cook for a few minutes more.

  3. Pour the juice from the tomatoes into the pot. Tear the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces with your fingers and throw them into the pot. (Or you can coarsely chop the tomatoes if you prefer. I find it easier to tear them.

  4. Add the broth, chick peas, and cannellini beans, and pancetta. Add a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, and a generous amount of oregano and thyme. Stir well.

  5. Turn the heat down to a simmer, and simmer to let everything blend together, stirring occasionally. I simmered for about 45 minutes. About 15 minutes before simmering is done, add the pasta.

  6. Taste, adjust seasonsings, and serve.

This is an easy soup, though not necessarily a quick one. (It takes a fair bit of time to chop all those veggies.)

It turned out well. (Mr. Spaceling ate 4 bowls, always a good sign.) It satisfied my definition of a minestrone. The only major changes I would make for next time would be to add a bit more broth (the final servings of soup were a bit thick), and to add the pancetta back to the soup only at the end, since the long simmering robbed it of its crispiness. And of course, I'll probably tinker with the vegetables a bit: this is a great "let's throw in whatever we've got in the crisper soup". But, on the whole, this hit the spot.

Posted by spaceling at January 3, 2006 04:06 PM


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