Vegetable Soup, Genovese Style (Minestrone alla Genovese)
Minestra is another Italian word for soup. The word minestrone translates as big soup and refers to the fact that this soup is packed with vegetables. Each region in Italy has its own version of this classic vegetable soup. This version of minestrone comes from Genoa, where pesto or fresh basil is added to the soup.
To make this soup heartier, add a handful or two of pasta about 5 minutes before the peas and pesto go into the pot. Small pasta shapes — such as elbows, ditali, or tiny shells — work best.
Preparation time: 30 minutes (plus overnight soaking time for dried beans)
Cooking time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
1 cup dried cannellini beans, or one 16-ounce can cannellini beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 slices pancetta or bacon (about 2 ounces), diced (optional)
1 medium red onion, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 medium carrots, chopped
5 celery stalks, chopped
1 small fennel bulb, cored and diced
Pinch of dried red pepper flakes
1 cup white wine
3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
3 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
2-1⁄2 quarts cold water
12 asparagus spears, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 small zucchinis, diced
1⁄2 cup frozen peas
1 cup diced green beans
1⁄4 cup Pesto, or 1 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Pick over the dried beans to remove broken beans and pebbles and place the beans in a pot or bowl with 5 cups cold water.
Soak them for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Drain.
In a large soup pot, combine the olive oil, pancetta, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, fennel, and red pepper flakes.
Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for about 10 minutes. Add the wine and continue cooking until most of it has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
Add the potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, and cannellini beans, stirring to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
Add 2-1⁄2 quarts water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add the asparagus, zucchinis, and green beans and cook for another 30 to 35 minutes; the cannellini beans should be cooked to the point where they can easily be crushed between two fingers.
Add the peas and pesto or basil and cook for 5 more minutes.
Adjust the seasoning, if necessary, with salt and pepper.
Serve hot or cold sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.