So hearty, so delicious, so Mediterranean. Seasonal vegetables, herbs, beans, and pasta simmered in broth until tender and mellow flavored. Ladies and gentlemen the ultimate Italian minestrone soup and all you need to know so that you cook minestrone soup like a pro every single time, all year long.
In my home, it’s like a celebration every single time minestrone soup is served for dinner. The kids wait holding impatiently their spoon, the hubby always takes a second portion (he puts the blame on his Italian roots) and I am so pleased that I have devoted only 45 minutes in the kitchen for such a delicious, hearty and filling meal.
I’ve been cooking minestrone soup for over a decade and in all seriousness, I have tested so many different versions that I have lost count. For me, this is an easy, quick dish that always makes everyone happy. Not to mention that it is a dish that uses up whatever is hanging out in my pantry. Plus, every mother’s/home cook’s dream: leftovers in the fridge for the next day(s) and in the freezer for next month(s). What more to ask for? To taste even better the next day? You got it, guys! It absolutely does!
I am so excited and proud of this post because I decided to gather up my 10-year experience and post a simple and handy beginner’s guide. This post's recipe is the simplest you can find and it uses up ingredients that you probably have already in your pantry and fridge right now. I hope you find it useful and inspire you to add various versions of this dish to your weekly meal plan all year long.
What did you say? You don’t eat soups in the summer? That is so pity because this is one of the best ways to enjoy summer vegetables. So, this summer I recommend following the Mediterranean way of eating and serve seasonal vegetable soups/stews at room temperature. You are going to love the flavors and reach your daily vegetable intake in such a delightful way!
THE ORIGINS OF MINESTRONE SOUP
For those who don't know Minestrone soup is an Italian vegetable soup. There are several versions of vegetable soups around the Mediterranean area and each one has its own history, flavor and it is enhanced by local ingredients and cooking techniques.
Traditionally, the Italian minestrone soup was made with leftovers from other meals containing mainly vegetables, beans, and pasta. Mediterranean home cooks can give to the modern food world a fine lecture about food management. Because in the traditional Mediterranean meal preparation nothing and I mean –NOTHING- is wasted. Leftovers are recycled and served in the next meal in the most delicious way.
MINESTRONE vs VEGETABLE SOUP?
So, what makes the Italian minestrone soup so special? Apart from the vegetables and herbs that are the king of the plate, minestrone is usually (but not always) bulked up with pasta or rice and beans. Those two ingredients make the soup thicker, outrageously richer, and provide extra textures besides tender vegetables.
We should definitely not forget Parmesan cheese. It provides that tangy-cheesy party up in your mouth and it marries up with the contrasting flavor of the vegetables. Perfection.
WHAT IS THE AUTHENTIC ITALIAN MINESTRONE SOUP RECIPE?
This is a trick question. (He He He). In all seriousness, do you think there is only one version? Really? No way. According to my humble opinion, I identify 3 factors that determine -at some point- the endless variations of this legendary dish: Seasonal produce, the place of origin, and every cook’s inspiration/preference/combination over herbs and vegetables.
Choosing more seasonal ingredients will guarantee a better result in terms of flavor and will encourage you to prepare a different minestrone at any time of the year.
We shouldn’t overlook passionate cooks and local traditional variations that have been enriching and enhancing ingredients and flavors of this legendary dish for centuries.
Bottom line, discover, and enjoy the endless versions of the Italian minestrone soup. Embrace the variety of vegetables available year-round, experiment, let your culinary imagination go wild, and serve different versions of this soup all year long.
THE ITALIAN MINESTRONE SOUP RECIPE
Maybe the following statement will upset some of you out there but, in all honesty, my intention is not to offend or criticize anyone but to give some food for thought. Mediterranean cooking isn’t simply about throwing together a few healthy ingredients to see what comes out. No way! There are established rules for making traditional Mediterranean dishes and they guarantee delicious and flavorful meals.
I am not saying that you should blindly follow strict guidelines that exclude either creativity or your own twist/combo/addition/favorite ingredient. Not at all! Nevertheless, throwing randomly some vegetables in a pot, simmering them until tender, adding Parmesan cheese, and calling this dish traditional minestrone soup, well, the news is that it isn't. It’s a version of vegetable soup which can undoubtedly be delicious and hearty but, again, this isn’t the Italian minestrone soup.
Now that we have cleared this matter up, let’s talk about how to make traditional minestrone soup.
BEGINNER’S GUIDE: ITALIAN MINESTRONE SOUP
The variety of freshest, peak-season vegetables will provide intriguing flavors and textures. Right! But how to cook them? Are there preferable combinations?
Set the bases: To start with, the Italian minestrone soup begins with sautéing aromatic vegetables in fat (usually olive oil). This cooking technique is going to enhance and bring all the flavors together at the same time.
Add more vegetables: Start with dense, long-cooking vegetables like potatoes, carrots, winter squash and give each one a couple of minutes to soften. Finally, add the tender vegetables and greens that usually contain water like zucchini, cabbage, spinach. That’s how you assemble layers of flavor that will bind together as you proceed.
Fresh or frozen veggies? One of the most debatable questions. Don’t search for the right answer because it mostly lies in personal preferences and available cooking time. For me, the most delicious minestrone soup (and any vegetable soup) is mostly based on freshly bought and seasonal vegetables because they provide the perfect taste and texture according to my taste buds. However, we cannot always use fresh ingredients because life is so complicated and there are those busy, impossible days when using up your frozen items is so convenient.
Therefore, the solution is somewhere in the middle and all I am saying is that it would be clever to enrich frozen vegetables with fresh ingredients. My pantry contains always basic vegetables for a Mediterranean dish (onion, garlic, celery, carrots, and tomatoes) ready for the version of the minestrone soup I want to make.
To give you an example, peas were the only frozen vegetables for this post’s recipe. However, I sometimes use canned tomato and tomato paste.
Balance the flavor: A tasteful Italian minestrone soup contains a well-balanced vegetable combo. How? Easy. Your favorite seasonal sweet vegetables in pleasant contrast with bitter ones. Got it? Balance.
It’s up to you to find out the balance that is right up your alley. Maybe it won’t happen the first time but eventually, you will find the perfect combo for you and your family. Then you go even further and start making Minestrone soup variations with seasonal veggies, testing new combos and explore new culinary paths. Yep, making minestrone soup can be addictive and a good reason to celebrate in your home too.
There is an endless list of sweet-bitter vegetable combos for all of us to discover and the following list contains the most common that can help all the beginners out there to make their first combos.
Sweet vegetables/greens: onions, leeks, carrots, tomato, peas, green beans, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, winter & summer squash, red bell peppers, beets, turnips, parsnips.
Bitter vegetables/greens: Celery, cabbage, eggplant, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, radishes, spinach, dandelion greens, arugula.
My extra delicious tip: I love leeks and their sweetness that Ι balance out with a splash of vinegar. Highly recommended.
Cook veggies the right way: Start by chopping the hardest ones, like carrots, potatoes, beets, into smaller pieces. On the contrary, cut softer vegetables, like onions, leeks, cabbage into larger chunks. Add leafy green vegetables like spinach, beet and collard greens, kale toward the end of cooking time.
Make your soup thicker (or not): if you like thicker soups, then minestrone soup is the ideal choice for you. Potatoes, beans, and pasta will soak up a great amount of liquid and give a rich, thick soup (or stew). So, if you like it this way, don't forget those 3 ingredients. Extra tip: stir in some blended beans to your minestrone soup at the end. It will thicken your soup up without messing up on the flavor.
The beans add more body to the soup, another interesting texture to enjoy and soak up the excess liquid. Hey, they taste amazing and add some extra protein too! Cannellini beans are the creamiest of all and I highly recommend them. However, you may use your favorite beans and actually whatever you have on hand.
Even though my family and I absolutely love beans, I don’t use them in minestrone soup. It is weird because we enjoy beans like in this traditional Greek white bean soup, and this black-eyed pea stew but we prefer our minestrone soup “beanless”. Totally fine since there are so many other tasteful and healthy ingredients on this plate anyway.
You may use good quality canned beans (rinsed and drained) preferably without additives or sodium. I really cannot help you more because I don’t use canned products. It is hard to find them in Greece. However, I always recommend dried beans over canned because unprocessed food consumption is a fundamental aspect of the Mediterranean way of eating and most likely they taste so much better.
However, cooking dried beans is time-consuming (you have to soak them overnight, boil them in order to stir them into the soup) for sure and I totally get the convenience of zero preparation and cooking time. It is your own game and you play it the way you like it.
Short pasta like ditalini and macaroni is preferred because it is small enough to accompany each spoonful but feel free to use any kind of short/small pasta like farfalle, rotini, orecchiette, orzo, stelline, etc. You may even use broken spaghetti if you don't have any of the above. I also suggest wholemeal or spelt pasta as a healthier option and minestrone soup is one of the best ways to appreciate their richness in fiber and rustic texture.
In case you use pasta, you got two options. You may simmer the pasta along with the vegetables or cook it separately and stir it into the soup upon serving. Cooking pasta with vegetables is my favorite option because the pasta absorbs the broth providing better taste and thicker soup.
However, if I intend to store and/or freeze leftovers, mushy pasta is a disappointment in my book. Honestly, this is not the end of the world but I prefer my pasta al dente. Therefore, every time you have planned to use leftover minestrone soup, take 5 minutes to cook pasta and stir it into the soup a few moments before serving.
Use whatever you have on hand, vegetable or chicken broth, preferably low-sodium. I don’t like store-bought broth so either I use homemade or just …water. You might think that a soup that contains water for liquid instead of broth is bland. I assure you that this is not the case and I challenge you to make my Italian minestrone soup recipe mentioned below without broth. I am sure you are going to love it. Leave a comment below and let me know!
PARMESAN CHEESE: THE BIG FINALE
Yes, please. Parmesan cheese is the signature ingredient of this dish. A generous sprinkle adds another flavor to the plate and I find the tanginess of this cheese the best choice you can make. I have already combined variations of minestrone soup with feta cheese, mizithra, and kefalograviera cheese (traditional Greek cheeses) but, quite frankly, Parmesan cheese is a surefire winner.
MINESTRONE SOUP VARIATIONS
The recipe below is a simple minestrone soup with the most common, easy to find ingredients. Here are more ideas to inspire you along the way.
Add more veggies
Feel free to toss in any favorite and seasonal vegetable and follow my tips above to ensure success. Here are some tasteful and balanced combinations according to the season.
Spring: artichokes-spinach, asparagus-beets (roots and leaves), zucchini-chard
Summer: eggplant- red bell peppers, green beans-zucchini-spring onion
Fall: cabbage-pumpkin, Brussels sprouts- butternut squash, sweet potato-kale
Winter: fennel-cauliflower, chicory-broccoli, cabbage-sweet potatoes
Make it spicy
If you would like your soup to have some heat, I highly recommend using crushed red pepper flakes. Adjust the quantity according to your liking.
Add more protein
Shredded or diced chicken, ground beef, chicken sausage, left-over rotisserie chicken. Why not? Follow the Mediterranean way of no waste food.
Use quinoa instead of pasta
Make it gluten-free and low-carb too. If you use neither beans nor pasta, I recommend tossing at least potato so that your soup thickens up a bit. Unless you enjoy the extra liquid so have a blast.
MY ITALIAN MINESTRONE SOUP IS READ! NOW, WHAT?
Party time! Serve with crusty chunks of bread or/and pita bread and soak up every last drop of it. Under no circumstances do not forget grated or shavings of Parmesan cheese. Unless you are vegan so you know what to do.
Pair it either with a fine dry Chardonnay, or an Italian Valpolicella Ripasso or a Greek Assyrtico.
It tastes so good the following day but it thickens in the refrigerator so when you reheat leftovers just stir in some water.
Minestrone soup can be stored in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Either way, I recommend leaving out the pasta. Simply cook the pasta while you heat leftovers up and mix everything up before serving.
If you make this recipe, please let me know! You know that I absolutely love your feedback. Bookmark this recipe and leave a comment below, or take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #30daysofgreekfood.
Italian Minestrone Soup: Beginner's guide
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 leeks, the white part, diced
- 1 large white onion, peeled and diced
- 3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 4 medium carrots, peeled and diced, no longer than ½ inch (1.2 cm)
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- 1½ cup (200g) fresh or frozen peas
- 3 medium golden potatoes, peeled and diced, no longer than ½ inch (1.2 cm)
- 3 cups fresh tomatoes, diced or 1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 6-8 cups (1½-2 liters) hot vegetable or chicken or beef broth or hot water
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 can (15 ounces) rinsed and drained small white beans (Northern or canellini beans, cooked
- 1 cup (100g) ditalini or macaroni or orzo*
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
OPTIONAL TOPPINGS (for serving)
- Freshly grated or shavings of Parmesan cheese
- Red pepper flakes, crushed
- 1 teaspoon apple cider
- freh basil or parsley or celery (leaves or stalk), finely chopped
- In a large heavy-bottomed pot heat 4 tablespoons olive oil on medium to high heat. Add the onion for 2 minutes and then the leek and celery until translucent, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and then the potatoes, about 2 minutes, the peas, 2 minutes and the carrots, 2 more minutes. Stir frequently and low the heat if the vegetables stick to the bottom of the pot.
- Time to pour in the diced tomatoes. If canned, discard the liquid and stir in for 5 minutes. Add 8 cups (2 liters) hot broth or hot water. If tomatoes are fresh, keep the juices, stir in for 5 minutes and add 6-7 cups (about 1½ liter) hot broth or hot water.
- Add bay leaves, red pepper flakes (optional), salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover partially the pot with the lid. Cook until potatoes and carrots are slightly tender, about 15 minutes.
- Uncover the pot, add the pasta* and the beans. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed. Continue simmering for 15 minutes until the pasta* and the vegetables are tender enough to your liking. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil.
- If you have cooked pasta separately, stir it into each plate and add a ladleful of soup on top.
- Serve with Parmesan cheese or other toppings of choice.