I have never confined minestrone to the colder months, although it’s perfect when it’s freezing. It is, however, still superb as we head towards spring. There are plenty of recipes with vibrant just-cooked spring vegetables and a bright dollop of pesto, which is not authentic but forgivable.
This is a recipe that straddles both the traditional well-cooked and lighter methods but uses a wide variety of green vegetables and less tomato, adding just a few cherry tomatoes into the pot at the end.
Yes, it’s quite a list of ingredients, but you will be well rewarded as there is just so much flavour that develops. This is nuanced by timing: you would never get the same result throwing all the ingredients in the pot at once. That’s called boiling, not cooking.
This soup takes on such a nourishing and warming role, like a huge embrace. For me, minestrone is all about a balance of well-cooked, undisturbed vegetables. They give over their flavour as most of the cooking happens in the oven.
Traditionally it might be made with dried beans and pasta and an intense broth with real depth of flavour, but I have held off on the pasta and the big dollop of tomato paste so you can savour the pure flavour of all the verdant vegetables in the broth. There is a gentle tang from the few tomatoes that
Please note that there should be a slick of oil on top once the cooking process has finished, so don’t skimp on the virgin olive oil.
The parmesan rind is optional, but it adds a delicious intensity and savoury note to the soup – well worth trying. Ask your local deli for some or save them, as I do, in a cup in the door of the fridge at home.
Really, you could use various combinations of vegetables for this. There are a few that you must not add, however, because they will dominate the flavour. Cabbage is a no, as is broccoli, eggplant and capsicum. You have been warned.
Time: 2.5 hours preparation + cooking
- 150ml extra virgin olive oil
- 100g 3cm-thick piece non-smoked pancetta, diced (or diced fennel salami)
- 2 large brown onions, finely diced
- 6 cloves garlic, sliced
- 4 celery stalks, sliced lengthways and diced
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2cm dice
- 1 bulb fennel, 2cm dice
- 1 turnip peeled, 2cm dice
- ½ bunch parsley, leaves chopped in a fine chiffonade and the stems finely sliced
- ½ bunch silverbeet, stripped from stems, stalk finely chopped and leafy greens just torn (about 300g)
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tbsp dried Greek oregano
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- 1½ tbsp salt flakes
- freshly ground black pepper
- 410g tinned beans (cannellini or butter beans) drained and rinsed
- 10cm piece parmesan rind (optional)
- 300g flat Romano beans, cut into 4cm lengths on an angle
- 2 medium zucchini, 2cm dice (about 300g)
- 750ml chicken stock, preferably homemade or jellied
- 500ml water (or use more stock if you have it)
- 100g baby spinach
- 2 handfuls frozen peas
- 30 small ripe cherry tomatoes
- freshly grated parmesan, to serve
- Preheat the oven to 160ºC fan-forced or 180ºC conventional.
- In a large cast-iron pot, heat two-thirds of the virgin olive oil over a medium heat. Add the pancetta or salami and cook for three minutes.
- Add the onion and sliced garlic and cook for five minutes, then add the celery and carrot and cook for 10 minutes, stirring. Add the fennel and the turnip and thinly sliced parsley stalks and silverbeet stalks and cook for a further five minutes, stirring.
- Add the fennel seeds, oregano, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cook for a further five minutes, until the vegetables have softened and shrunk in volume.
- While stirring, add the tinned beans, parmesan rind, the green beans and zucchini, and the rest of the virgin olive oil. Stir for a minute and follow in with the hot stock and water, bringing the pot just to a simmer.
- Add the silverbeet leaves, spinach and peas. Push into the liquid a bit with a spoon and scatter the tomatoes.
- Place a lid on the pot and cook in the oven for 60 minutes. Remove the lid and cook uncovered in the oven for a final 30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven but do not stir. You want to avoid crushing the very well cooked vegetables.
- Spoon into bowls, season and serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some grated parmesan.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 29, 2023 as "Green minestrone ".
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