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minestrone soup

I made a huge pot of minestrone on Monday and thought I would reheat it when I got home from the pub last night. Big mistake. The smell of smoked bacon and tomatoes is not what you want wafting through your house when you’re trying to go to sleep. So, I dreamt of minestrone last night and resolved to upload this recipe today so that everyone can have minestrone dreams too.

It’s one of my favourite things to make because it’s embodies the whole chop-a-bunch-of-veggies-up-and-toss-in-in-a-pot way of cooking for when it’s bloody freezing outside and I can’t be bothered to really cook just want to watch Masterchef and The Voice.

You can put anything you like in a minestrone – I don’t like potatoes or zucchini because I think potatoes can make the soup floury and zucchini has a funny texture when boiled in a soup, but it’s very much a matter of personal preference.

Another really good tip is to save up old parmesan rinds and chuck them in, they add a really nice depth of flavour. They’re kind of delicious in an odd, chewy sort of way – if you felt inclined to try one after fishing it out of the soup.

Serves 8-10 as an entree, or 6-8 as a main

3 tbsp             olive oil
1                     large brown onion
2 cloves         garlic, finely diced
1                    large leek, white part only – quartered and finely sliced
2                    carrots, diced
2                    sticks celery, diced
60g                speck or smoked bacon, diced (optional)
1                    parmesan rind, remove the wax, cut into 1cm cubes (optional)
¼                   cabbage, sliced into 1cm thickness
1 can (400g)  tinned diced tomatoes
2 tbsp            tomato paste or concentrate
1 can (400g)  bean mix, with liquid drained
2                    bay leaves
1 litre             mild stock
1                    bouquet garni, dried or fresh (parsley, bay, thyme)
1 tsp              dried oregano leaves
½ tsp             sugar

2 cups            small pasta, macaroni, shells or orecchiette
100g              frozen peas

Optional (to thicken)
1 tsp corn starch mixed with 1 tbsp cold water

Fresh pesto (recipe to come),
drizzle of olive oil, parmesan and cracked pepper to serve

  1. Heat a non stick pan to medium heat.
  2. Add a olive oil, reduce the heat to low and sweat the onion, garlic, leek, carrots and celery until they are soft, about ten minutes.
  3. Add speck and stir to combine, cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add cabbage, and cook to soften, about 3 minutes.
  5. Bring the heat back up to medium and add tinned tomatoes, tomato paste, canned beans and bay leaves.
  6. Add stock, bouquet garni, oregano and sugar, stir and bring to the boil. When boiling, bring the heat down to a very gentle simmer – you don’t want big bubbles – and simmer for an hour.
  7. If your minestrone is looking too watery for your liking, thicken with cornstarch and water mixture. Season to taste.
  8. Cook pasta in a separate pot, and add peas in the last minute of cooking.
  9. To serve, put cooked pasta and peas in the bottom of each bowl and season with salt if needed. Serve with fresh pesto, a drizzle of olive oil, parmesan and cracked pepper.

Tips for minestrone:

  • Don’t cook the pasta in the minestrone or it will just soak up the delicious soup. In addition, if you have leftovers, the pasta will keep swelling in the soup and be unpalatable. Add pasta and peas to each individual bowl and serve.
  • Michel Roux calls stocks ‘embryonic’ –  the aim is for a gentle simmer to get the maximum flavour out of the ingredients. In essence we’re really cheating here by making a stock and soup in one pot.
  • Mr Roux also says cooking a stock for longer does not make it better – do not simmer the soup for more than 1.5 hours.
  • Use a non-stick pot, it means that there’s less likelihood of ingredients catching and burning on the bottom of the pan.
  • The sugar helps to balance the acidity of the tomatoes, if you like a sharp flavour just omit it.