In Italian to denote largeness you add -one/-ona/-oni to the end of the word. Libro (book) for example becomes librone (big book), casa (house) becomes casona ( big house) and minestra* (a soup) becomes minestrone (big soup.)
Before I swear off writing about soup for a while – I do know there has been rather alot of it around here lately – I’d like to talk about minestrone, the delicious heavyweight of our trusted soup/zuppa/minestre/broth recipes. A big, hearty, robust, bear roar of a plateful.
Minestrone, as you probably know, is a very substantial mixed vegetable soup which may or may not include beans and probably some pasta or Rice. It is cooked very slowly over a low heat emerging dense with a deep, mellow flavour that recalls no vegetable in particular, but all of them at once. There are, as is natural with a dish of this kind, many many recipes, ideas and thoughts about minestrone, the character of each panful being shaped by its circumstances, the place it is made in, the season, the produce available and of course the cook.
Place – Rome. Season – Autumn, was crisp and ode worthy but now rainy and rather soggy. Produce – onion, celery, carrots, courgettes, potato, tomatoes, green beans, savoy cabbage, cannellini beans. Cook – me with Vincenzo supervising.
The big, bold, relaxed ‘everything in the pan‘ aspect of minestrone is true but misleading if you think it means ‘chuck it all in the pan.’ Good minestrone- I have learnt- is made with care, attention and needs time. True, a large part of this time requires a minimum of attention, a stir every now and then, the later addition of the beans while the pan simmers for about 3 hours over a very low flame. The initial steps however do need just under an hour of your cooking attention. This is because the ingredients enter the pot one by one in a set sequence, as each one joins the previous one in the pan it is given an attentive and gentle 5 minute sautè before the next ingredient is added.
This steady march of ingredients into the pot allows the essential underlying flavours to develop which are then imparted to the next vegetable. While one vegetable is cooking you prepare the next, It’s actually a rather nice process if you are not in a rush and have some good chopping music.
When you get to the simmer, the flame should be low and the simmer itself tremulous, the gentlest kind, the kind that has you checking the flame hasn’t gone out because the pan looks so still….. you lift the lid, you look closely, you see the surface is quivering and suddenly ‘plop‘ a burp of a bubble breaks surface of the soup, you are reassured all is well.
I made this particular minestrone on Monday. We had some for supper on Monday night with some bread, it was good, but it was much better on Tuesday when we added some pasta and ate it for lunch with Lisa. I knew it would be, a good nights rest and a gentle reheating improves the flavour.
We like pasta in our minestrone, it is usually small lumache rigate (lumache means “snail,” and this delightful form of this pasta does look rather like a snail shell.) As we usually make a mothership quantity of minestrone which lasts several days – a week even if all nicely sealed in the fridge – I reheat the quantity we need for a particular meal in a smaller pan. While the minestrone is gently reheating I cook some pasta in another pan, about 70g per person until it is very al dente. Once the pasta is cooked and the minestrone is nice and hot I drain and then mix the pasta with the soup and then let everything sit for at least 5 minutes so the pasta can finish cooking and absorb some of the flavours of the minestrone which is in turn cooling to the most desirable temperature.
Adapted (like so many of my recipes) from Marcella Hazans book The essentials of Classic Italian cooking.and the recipe for Minestrone alla romagnola.
Inspired by the many bowls of minestrone I have eaten here in italy
serves 6 very generously.
- 45g butter
- 8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 medium red onions peeled and finely diced
- 3 medium carrots peeled and finely diced
- 2 sticks of celery, finely diced
- 350g courgettes diced
- 200g potato peeled and diced
- 150g french beans diced
- 200g shredded savoy cabbage
- 120g tinned or fresh plum tomatoes
- 1.5 litres water
- 400g cooked cannellini beans
- a large parmigiano – reggiano (parmesan) crust
- 4 tablespoons freshly grated parmigiano – reggiano (parmsan) cheese
Gently heat the butter and oil in very large, heavy based pan and then add the onion. Keep the heat at medium low and cook the onion uncovered until it is soft and floppy and just starting to turn golden but no darker – this will take a good 10-15 minutes.
Add the diced carrot, stir and then gently cook for 5 minutes stirring once or twice more.
Add the diced celery, stir and then gently cook for 5 minutes stirring once or twice more.
Now add the potatoes stir and then gently cook for 5 minutes stirring once or twice more.
And now….the french beans stir and then gently cook for 5 minutes stirring once or twice.
Now the add the courgettes…..yes you have guessed it….. stir and then gently cook for 5 minutes stirring once or twice.
Add the shredded cabbage stir and then gently cook for 5 minutes stirring once or twice.
Now add the tinned tomatoes, stir and then add the water and the parmesan rind, stir again and cover the pan reduce the heat to a tremulous simmer, steady and slow and leave it just so for 2 and a half hours stirring occasionally.
After 2 1/2 hours add the cannellini beans, stir carefully and firmly and then cook for another 30 minutes.
NOTE; if you find the soup is looking too thick before it has finished cooking add a little more water.
When the minestrone has finished cooking pick out the parmesan rind and remove about 1/5 of the soup into a separate bowl and blast it until smooth and gloopy with the imersion blender before returning it to the big pan and the rest of the soup. Stir in the grated parmesan and taste and season with salt if necessary.
* In Italian the word minestra is often used (sometimes confusingly) to describe most of the vast family of Primi piatti (first courses) with a liquid base and thus eaten with a spoon, the broths and some soups with pasta, rice or grains and sometimes dumplings in them. Soups without these additions tend to be referred to as zuppe. Tortellini in brodo, pasta e ceci, pasta e fagioli are all minestre.