In Italy, minestrone isn’t a type of soup so much as it is a category of soups. Minestrone translates from Italian to English as “thick vegetable soup,” coming from the word “minestra,” which simply means soup. Minestrones can range from region to region and reflect the tastes and ingredients (especially produce) of the area.
Minestrones were and are typically made with what is on hand, so they reflect an area. They are the perfect example of peasant food, deliciousness that comes from local ingredients, resourcefulness, and making the most of what is available. Many minestrones include beans and a starch (pasta, rice, or potatoes), setting them apart from other less hearty vegetable soups.
In the North, the minestrones tend to feature white beans and rice; rice is a must in Milanese minestrones. But in the South, there might be more tomato based-soups, redolent with garlic and basil. And that’s just the beginning — you might find vegetables like pumpkin, kale, cabbage, potatoes, and various legumes in minestrones. The soup also varies with the seasons, even within regions of Italy. Minestrone is a soup designed to make the most of seasonal and local produce, so you should feel free to switch things up!
Vegetarian or Vegan Minestrone
If you want to make your minestrone vegetarian, use vegetable broth, skip the pancetta or bacon and add another tablespoon or two of olive oil. If you want to keep the minestrone vegan, also skip the Parmesan cheese, or use a vegan Parmesan.
I unintentionally developed this as a gluten-free recipe, as I decided to use potatoes instead of more traditional pasta. It turned out to be a really good inadvertent instinct, as I happened to have a gluten-free person in my home that very night, and she was delighted to get to have a bowl of the soup!
The list looks long, but nothing about this is complicated! Also, this makes a very big pot, which is beautiful. You can make it for a crowd, have leftovers all week long, or freeze some of it. Yes, you can also cut this recipe in half!
- Olive oil – it’s hard to think of many Italian recipes that don’t start with a base of olive oil!
- Diced pancetta or bacon – this gives the soup a savory, salty, umami base, but you can definitely skip it for a vegetarian or vegan version and add another tablespoon or two of olive oil.
- Diced carrots, celery, and leeks – the mixture of carrots, celery, and onions sautéed as the base of an Italian dish is called “sofrito.” In this case, I used leeks instead of onions, but the concept is the same, and you can use onions if you like!
- Garlic – a hint of minced garlic adds depth of flavor.
- Cabbage and kale – I like napa cabbage and lacinato or dinosaur kale, but any cabbage and kale are fine!
- Potato and zucchini – these vegetables give the soup substance, and the neutrally flavored vegetables soak up all of the seasonings and flavors.
- Tomatoes – you can use either chopped fresh tomatoes or canned, making these a soup for all seasons.
- Broth – I prefer reduced-sodium broths so I can season my soup to taste. Use vegetable broth for a vegan or vegetarian soup.
- Beans – I like white beans, such as Northern or cannellini. If you happen to cook your own beans, you can use some of the cooking water in place of the broth.
- Fresh herbs – use a generous hand! This recipe calls for flat-leaf parsley, thyme, and basil. Dried is definitely an option (cut the amounts in half), but fresh makes this soup sing.
Minestrone Soup: This thick vegetable soup is chock-a-block with good stuff, and with some crusty bread, it’s hard to think of a more satisfying simple meal.Tweet This
What to Serve With Minestrone
Crusty bread! You truly don’t need anything else (except maybe a second bowl). But if you want to create a broader Italian meal, think about:
- Caprese Garlic Bread
- Lentil Salad
- Cherry Tomato Antipasti Salad
- Endive and Radicchio Salad with Fresh Mozzarella
- Red Salad
- Salad with Homemade Italian Dressing
Other Vegetable Soup Recipes
- Tomato, Orzo and Dill Soup
- Vegetarian Split Pea Soup
- Simple Vegetable Soup
- Spring Vegetable Soup
- Escarole and Spinach Soup
- Asparagus Soup
- Lentil Tomato Soup
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- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup diced pancetta or bacon (optional)
- 2 cups diced onion
- 1 cup diced carrots
- 2 leeks (white and light green parts only, washed and diced)
- ½ cup diced celery
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 3 cups slivered cabbage (preferably napa)
- 4 cups chopped washed and chopped kale (thick ribs and stems discarded)
- 1 large potato (peeled and diced, about 1 cup)
- 3 cups seeded and diced ripe tomatoes (or 1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes in juice)
- 8 cups vegetable or chicken broth (preferably less sodium)
- 1 Parmesan rind (optional; see Note)
- 2 cans (15-ounce) white beans (such as Northern or cannellini, rinsed and drained)
- 3 cups diced zucchini
- ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1 ½ teaspoons dried)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- ½ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
- Grated Parmesan cheese (to serve, optional)
- Heat the oil in a large soup or stock pot, or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the pancetta, if using, and saute until the pancetta is crispy and browned, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, leeks, carrots, celery and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally for another 5 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and a very light golden brown. Add the cabbage and kale and stir occasionally for another 5 minutes, until the greens have wilted.
- Add the potato, tomatoes, and broth and turn the heat to medium-high. Bring the soup to a simmer and simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the greens have softened.
- Place half of the white beans in a bowl, and using a potato mashed or a fork, mash the beans into a chunky paste. Add the crushed and whole white beans to the pot along with the zucchini, tomatoes, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. Return to a simmer and stir often for another 15 minutes, until the zucchini is tender. Stir in the basil and serve.
The nutrition values are provided as an estimate. It is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional.
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