Literally meaning ‘big soup’, minestrone is a hearty Italian dish half way between a soup and a stew. Vegetable-based, it was traditionally made from leftovers and whatever was in the garden or foraged nearby, so feel free to use this recipe as a guide for your own improvisations. Beans or pasta, often both, add substance and make it more filling, as does a little rice; small pasta shapes are best, but you can use bits and pieces of leftover or broken pasta. Cooking it in the soup adds flavour to the pasta while the starch it gives off thickens the soup. If you have homemade stock, use it as the base, otherwise just use water and let the vegetables flavour it; avoid commercial stocks, which tend to be overly strong. You could also poach a whole chicken to make stock and shred some of the meat into the soup. Freshly grated parmesan is optional (take inspiration from my friend Alessandro and throw the parmesan rind in the pot for extra flavour). If, like me, you like a touch of heat, stir in some chilli too. Italy and Spain being close neighbours, I enjoy it with a glass of Lustau Amontillado Sherry.
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 red onion, finely diced
- Salt flakes, to taste
- 2 leeks, washed and finely sliced
- 2 litres chicken stock or water
- 1 carrot, grated
- 1 stalk celery, finely diced
- 250g risoni, ditalini or other small pasta shapes
- ¼ Chinese cabbage, finely sliced
- 350g chicken thigh fillets, thinly sliced
- 400g canned borlotti beans, drained, rinsed and partly crushed
- Handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
- Heat oil in a large saucepan, add onion with a good pinch of salt, cover and cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until starting to brown.
- Stir in leeks, cover and cook for about 10 minutes, until very soft.
- Add chicken stock or water and bring to the boil.
- Stir in carrot, celery and pasta and return to the boil, reduce heat to medium, cover and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in cabbage, chicken and beans, cover and cook for a further minute, then remove from heat, cover and set aside for at least 5 minutes.
- Taste, stir in parsley and salt, reheat if necessary and serve.