As lemonade is to a hot summer day, so is a piping hot bowl of soup in the middle of January. And one of our favourite all-time soups is minestrone. One of the reasons it is our favourites is because of the multitude of varieties and variations on this beloved classic. Indeed, ask twenty nonnas for their recipe and you are likely to get twenty different recipes, and that is really what makes it so wonderful.
Even the word minestrone has a loose, humble meaning, having evolved from the Italian minestra (“That which is served”). This would help explain the variations, but there are certain characteristics that a good minestrone soup should have; it should have lots of vegetables, maybe some meat, and tomatoes, definitely tomatoes. And potatoes. And maybe pasta. And beans. And the stock, well, that can be a chicken or beef stock. Or vegetable. Or water.
It really depends on what you have on hand, preferably local and seasonal, thus the preponderance of root vegetables in the winter. And that is really what minestrone is all about.
“The tradition of not losing rural roots continues today, and minestrone is now known in Italy as belonging to the style of cooking called “cucina povera” (literally “poor kitchen”) meaning dishes that have rustic, rural roots, as opposed to “cucina nobile” or the cooking style of the artistocracy and nobles”-Wikipedia
The other day I bought a bag of prewashed baby spinach and the package had a recipe for Spinach Minestrone soup. No need really to go into too much detail, it was a recipe for a thick chunky vegetable soup. With spinach. I had surprise guests coming over and I knew they would be hungry, so decided to whip up a pot of minestrone.
In less than half an hour, the time it takes to cook a lentil, the kitchen was filled with the aroma of a delicious, hearty and healthy homemade soup that appeared to have been cooking for hours. Served with thick sliced brown bread with butter, nothing could have excited my chilly guests more. Here is my recipe for a quick and easy minestrone soup, I used lentils and macaroni noodles for the starch, but, in keeping with tradition feel free to make it your own. You can use arborio rice, borlotti beans, white beans, chickpeas, even ziti. Just make sure you’ve got lots of starch and lots of veggies and you’ll be good to go.
Quick Minestrone Soup
Olive oil for sautéing
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 carrots, chopped
2 potatoes, chopped
¼ cup green lentils
1- 28 oz can tomatoes
750 ml chicken stock (water may also be used for veggie version)
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup macaroni noodles, uncooked
1 -8 oz bag pre-washed baby spinach
Whenever I make a soup with pasta, I always cook the noodles separately, and only add them to the serving bowl just before serving, pouring the soup over top. This way the noodles retain a favourable texture, rather than turning into amorphous mush slugs…and absorbing all your lovely stock. This is a good tip for macaroni and cheese too; keep the macaroni separate from your cheese sauce, especially if you anticipate having leftovers.
Boil macaroni noodles in one pot and attend to them while you make your soup in another pot. Meanwhile….
- Sauté onion in olive oil over low heat until slightly browned.
- add carrots and potatoes and give it a good stir, add garlic, continuing to stir, and drizzle a little more olive oil, add spinach and stir lightly until spinach wilts (about 1 minute)
- add canned tomatoes, loosely crushing tomatoes with your hands as they enter the pot
- turn heat to simmer and add stock (or water) and lentils
- add bay leaves
- check macaroni. If done, strain and set aside. Wet with a little olive oil so they don’t stick together.
- simmer soup until veggies and lentils are cooked, about twenty minutes
- season to taste
- put two tablespoons of macaroni in each bow, cover with soup. Serve with bread.