I may not have created a truly perfect Minestrone, but this recipe I'm slurping down on a cool fall day has come pretty darn close.
It's based off a recipe from Simply Recipes, one of my favourite food sites out there, in terms of sheer simplicity and wholesome dishes. But I played with a couple of things, in part because I couldn't be bothered to track down the salted pork it calls for (plus I find sometime too much pork in a soup dish to be rather unappetizing). The only thing I might do differently in the future is to use a bit more white beans; I personally am a big bean lover and would like to have even more floating around in the soup. But that small point aside, this soup is hearty and bold, with just a hint of smokiness coming from the bacon used in the onion-celery-carrot base. Delicious, and yields so many servings, I have lunches for at least 5 days and 2 servings tucked away in the freezer.
(makes about 8 servings)
1 1/4 cup Great Northern beans, soaked over night and rinsed (about 1/2 lb, could use even more if you love beans like I do)
6 cups water or chicken or beef stock (I used 2 cups water and 2 packets of Herb's Ox beef broth seasoning)
1 bay leaf
2 strips bacon, diced
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1/2 head of Savoy cabbage, cored and cut into thin strips (about 1/4" thick and 1" long)
1 15 oz. can Italian whole tomatoes, chopped
1 potato, diced
1 zucchini, diced
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 rind from a block of Parmesan cheese (about 2" long and 1" thick)
Parmesan cheese, grated, for serving
In a large saucepan or stock pot, combine beans, water or stock, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 hour.
In a separate stock pot, render bacon over low heat. Add diced onion and cook until translucent. Add celery, carrot, cabbage, tomatoes (and juice), potato and zucchini. (I add these as I'm finished chopping each one in sequence, allowing each to cook a little before adding the next ingredient, putting the lid on to allow the cabbage in particular to begin steaming.)
Add 5 cups chicken or vegetable broth (I used vegetable) and cook about 20 minutes. If you have a chunk of Parmesan cheese on hand, chop off the hard rind and drop it into the broth. It helps the soup to thicken and adds wonderful flavor, plus is a great way to use a typically unused piece of the cheese!
Towards the end of the 20 minutes, transfer about half the beans and liquid into a blender and purée (do this in small batches as hot liquid in a blender expands and can cause quite a hot mess). Add the puréed bean mixture into the soup, along with the remaining unblended beans and liquid. Simmer for an additional 10 - 15 minutes, adding any additional herbs you like (the original Simply Recipes recipe calls for parsley, which I omitted because I didn't have any on hand).
Serve with Parmesan cheese. I had some Italian sausage in the freezer that needed to get used up, so to the unfrozen servings, I cooked the sausages, blotted them with paper towels to get rid of some of the excess grease, and added them to the soup as well for a little additional sustenance.