Summer Minestrone Soup
Summer is the best time to make minestrone. All the vegetables I like to use most – young zucchini and yellow squash, local string beans and wax beans, those big white onions called “spring onions,” the first heads of cabbages — are in season. By the way, I do not make a southern Italian style soup, as you might expect. I make a more or less Bolognese style minestrone. Years and years ago, when I used to spend time in Bologna, there were trattorias under that city’s famous loggias that would put already portioned bowls of their room-temperature soup on a display table outside the door – to entice customers. I don’t know if they do this anymore. I haven’t been to Bologna during the summer in at least 20 years. In any case, that soup is the inspiration for this soup, more a vegetable stew than a brothy vegetable soup.
Last week, I made the soup entirely vegetarian. I didn’t have any broth in the freezer or cupboard. And I actually left out the celery. My farmers’ market didn’t have celery and it was too hot (and I was too lazy) to walk to the store and buy some. The soup was still great. It is totally adjustable to taste and to the offerings of the market. More or less of each ingredient won’t diminish its deliciousness as a bowl of veggies.
By the way, I always make a large amount, as the soup can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week and I can eat this for several days before I need to change my diet. After indulging in it as is – the recipe follows – I might add some water or broth for the second time around, and boil rice – any kind of white rice — in the soup for just five minutes. You will need an additional two cups of liquid for one cup of rice. Then stir in a good quantity of fresh, shredded or torn basil, ladle out into bowls and let cool to room temp. The rice will continue to absorb liquid as the soup cools, leaving the rice still pleasantly firm, not mushy.
Incidentally, this soup is very low in calories, but that’s not the reason to make it. And grated Parmigiano-Reggiano is in major order here.
Makes about 4 quarts
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups diced onions – I used spring onions, still available this time of year, in ¼-inch dice
- 3 cups diced carrots (cut into ½-inch dice), about 4 medium-large
- 1 cup celery (cut into 1/2-inch dice), about 2 large, outside ribs
- 6 to 8 smallish zucchini (or mixture of zucchini or yellow summer squash), cut into ½-inch dice, 4 to 5 cups
- 1 pound stringbeans, ends snipped off, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 large potatoes, cut into ½-inch dice
- 6 cups finely shredded cabbage (about 1½ pounds)
- 1½ cups canned peeled tomatoes, diced (I happened to have a half of a 28-ounce can on hand), or 2 medium, ripe round tomatoes, or 4 ripe plum tomatoes, diced
- About 10 cups of water or light chicken broth
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 cups cooked cannellini beans or chickpeas
- ½ cup finely shredded basil
In a large soup pot, heat the oil and sauté the onions over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, dice the carrots. Add them to the onions, stir well to mix, then continue cooking another 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, dice the celery. Add to the other vegetables, stir well, and continue to cook another 5 minutes.
Continue with dicing the zucchini, cooking it with the other vegetables, then the peeling and dicing the potatoes and cooking them the other vegetables.
Finally, add the shredded cabbage, stir well, cover the pot and let cook for 5 minutes. Uncover the pot, stir again, and let the cabbage cook a little longer, covered, until it wilts well.
Add the tomatoes and enough water to cover all the vegetables by about 1 inch. Stir well, add about a teaspoon of salt and several grindings of black pepper, bring to a simmer and simmer gently, partially covered, for at least one hour, until the vegetables are quite soft.
Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper. It may also be necessary to add more water or broth at some time. This is not a brothy soup, but the vegetables should be covered with liquid.
Add the beans or chickpeas and continue to simmer gently for another hour.
Just before serving, stir in a handful of shredded or torn fresh basil.
The soup is even better if made in the morning and reheated in the evening, or the day after, or the day after that.
Note: If making a completely vegetarian soup, it is always good to add a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind (I save them in the freezer, like meat bones) for extra flavor. Discard the rind before serving. If using chicken broth, you can also add the rind, but it isn’t as necessary.