I’ve always passed minestrone by, until someone told me about the pesto. Now I am addicted!
Minestrone is a hearty vegetable soup from the Romagna, of which Marcella Hazan, author of The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, says, “very little is put into the minestrone beyond a variety of seasonal vegetables, whose separate characteristics give way and intermingle through very slow cooking in broth. The result is a soup of mellow, dense flavor that recalls no vegetable in particular but all of them at once.”
I don’t know what it is about minestrone that always made me pass it over on menus or in the tinned soup aisle at the supermarket. Somehow, it was never appealing to me, until my friend Susan served it this summer as part of a wonderful meal she made from her farmers market share. Bursting with fresh flavors, the soup was already set to win me over, but what really converted me to minestrone was the fresh pesto Susan served with it. I’m a big pesto fan, as is the entire Moscovore family, and that infusion of flavor turned a good vegetable soup into a great dish!
With plum tomatoes, zucchini, and carrots at their peak, autumn is the perfect time to try some minestrone. I turned to my cookbook collection for technique and interpretation. Marcella Hazan, ever my first stop for all things Italian, reminded me to cook the vegetables in order of their water content, which makes for a more balanced texture. The geniuses at Cook’s Illustrated in their authoritative Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook suggested the pancetta, which gives the soup a wonderful underpinning of flavor. Pancetta is available in the more upscale supermarkets of Moscow, but don’t stress if you can’t find it – a good quality bacon will do just as well. The Cook’s Illustrated recipe also makes the point that the starch from the cannellini beans helps to thicken the soup, rescuing it from being too thin and watery. They recommend using dried beans and rehydrating them, but I found that tinned beans and their liquid addressed the problem adequately. The addition of the pasta is my own, and can certainly be eliminated. To make this soup vegetarian, substitute vegetable stock for chicken stock and don’t add the pancetta.
You can make and store both the pesto and the soup for up to 5 days in the fridge, but I recommend storing them separately so that you can add the pesto just at the moment you serve the soup for maximum impact. The soup freezes adequately. If you want to make a large batch to freeze, I recommend making it up to the addition of the beans and pasta and then finish the soup when you de-frost it.
For the Pesto
Are you a minestrone fan? A pesto fan? Are you already missing the plum tomatoes?
Did you try this recipe? Weigh in by rating this recipe on the Moscovore Matriyoshka scale and leave your comments below!