Now I would never think of ordering minestrone soup (aka vegetable soup) at a restaurant and, indeed, it is not a meal that readily comes to mind during the dog days of summer. Nevertheless, I do recall our good friends the Allais serving up a delightful plate of minestrone over rice topped with fresh chopped basil leaves. In Milan, it is traditional to use minestrone soup from the night before dished over rice in the morning and left to cool to room temperature for a hearty and tasty lunch.
The illustrious Marcella Hazan’s has a gourmet version of the Milanese variation of minestrone that has become a popular favorite at the May household (recipe from The Classic Italian Cookbook). We serve ours without the rice (cut down on the carbs) and prefer to eat our minestrone soup at room temperature. Try this great recipe and you will quickly appreciate how “real” vegetable soup is meant to taste. After all, minestrone sounds a lot more sexy than vegetable soup.
A note on preparation: Marcella (who aside from Thérèse is never wrong – at least never admits to being wrong) recommends adding vegetables to the pot in the sequence shown below. While one vegetable is slowly cooking in the oil and butter you peel and cut the next. Aside from being less tedious, it produces a better tasting soup. Cook each vegetable 2 or 3 minutes, at least, before adding the next.
Marcella’s Minestrone di Romagna
Ingredients (serves 6 to 8)
1/2 cup olive oil
3 Tbs butter
1 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
2 cups peeled, diced potatoes (Thérèse normally leaves out – carbs!)
1 1/2 cups fresh white beans, if available, or 1 1/2 cups canned cannellini beans.
2 cups diced zucchini (about 2 medium zucchini)
1 cup diced green beans
3 cups shredded cabbage, preferable Savoy cabbage
6 cups homemade meat broth or 2 cups canned beef broth mixed with 4 cups of water
The crust of a 2 to 4 inch long piece of Parmesan cheese scraped clean (optional, but well worth it!)
2/3 cup canned Italian tomatoes with their juice
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Handfull of chopped fresh chopped basil leaves for garnish.
- Choose a stockpot large enough for all ingredients. Put in oil, butter and the sliced onion and cook over medium-low heat until the onion wilts and is pale gold in color, but not browned. Add the diced carrots and cook for 2 to 3 minutes , stirring once or twice. Repeat this procedure in sequence with the celery, potatoes, white beans (if using fresh ones), zucchini, and green beans, cooking each one a few minutes and stirring. Then add the shredded cabbage and cook for about 6 minutes giving pot the occasional stir.
- Add the broth, the cheese crust, the tomatoes and their juice and a little bit of salt. (Careful with salt if using canned broth). Cover and cook at a very slow boil for at least 3 hours. If necessary, you can stop the cooking at any time and resume later. Minestrone must never be thin and watery, so cook until it is soupy thick.
- Fifteen minutes before the soup is done, add the canned or cooked dry beans (if not using fresh ones). Just before turning off the heat, remove the cheese crust, swirl in the grated cheese, then taste and correct for salt.
Eat the soup warm or, as we prefer, allow it to cool to room temperature and then serve with chopped basil. We strongly recommend cutting up the Parmesan crust into bite-size chunks. This works very well with hot soup, but does tend to be a bit chewy. Never refrigerate the soup. It is meant to be served the same day or next.