It’s been said that you can tell where you are in Italy by tasting the ingredients of bowl of a minestrone, Italy’s storied vegetable soup. This particular recipe, Minestrone Milanese, comes from the north because it contains rice. Most other regions of Italy add pasta to the soup.
The Milanese claim that minestrone is a classic dish originating in Piedmont. The Ligurians claim to have invented minestrone and put an identifying mark on it by plopping a mound of lovely pesto into their soup. We’ll let the Italians duke it out on the origins. But as Italian food expert Elizabeth David has pointed out:
What gives all Italian soups, weather thick or thin, rustic or elegant, their unmistakable character is the lavish use of grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, both stirred into the soup to thicken it and served separately at the table.
Most Italian recipes have few ingredients. That’s what keeps them simple and tasty. Minestrone is the exception with what looks like an ingredient list as long as your arm! Do not despair: it’s worth the extra fuss. But consider that, while the first few ingredients are cooking, you can be chopping up the rest. And, this recipe makes enough to feed an army.
A Few Tips in Preparing Minestrone Milanese
Diced, canned tomatoes contain calcium chloride so they won’t loose their shape. This means the tomato pieces do not break down easily while cooking. I put the tomatoes with their juice in a mini-chop/processor and pureé the whole thing. You can also just chop the pieces very fine by hand.
The fresh basil in my nearby supermarkets was pathetic so I bought and tried these little frozen packets of chopped basil. Each packet is a teaspoon and they worked pretty well.
This recipe makes a lot of soup. If you’re not going to serve it all at once and/or intend to freeze half of it, separate the soup into two batches just before adding the peas/beans/rice. Add half those ingredients to the soup that will be served. When you defrost the rest, add the other half portions of the peas/beans/rice. If you add the rice all at once while cooking the first batch, the rice will just disintegrate as it’s cooked again.
When the soup is full cooked, swirl in a few tablespoons of Parmigiano cheese and pass more for sprinkling on at the table. And don’t forget to freeze your cheese rinds for your next batch of soup! Enjoy.
Yield: Serves 10
Total Time: one hour
- 1 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 4 ounces pancetta, chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 sage leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
- 2 carrots, cut into thin slices
- 1 stalk celery, sliced
- 2 small zucchini (1 large), cubed
- 2 gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, finely chopped or put into food process or with juice
- 1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 8 basil leaves, or 3 cubes of frozen chopped basil
- 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed
- 1/4 head Savoy cabbage, chopped
- 1 cup arborio rice
- 1 Parmigiano cheese rind, optional
- grated Parmigiano for swirling, topping
- In a food processor, chop fine the parsley, garlic and pancetta
- In a large pot, heat the butter and oil and sauté the onions until translucent about 3 minutes
- Add the garlic mixture and cook until the pancetta is golden brown
- Add the carrots, celery, zucchini, potatoes, tomatoes, beans ,basil and cheese rind and cook for 2 minutes while stirring
- Add 3 quarts or water and the salt then cover and simmer the soup for 2 hours
- Add the peas, cabbage and rice and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes just until the rice is tender
- Discard the cheese rind and season the soup with salt and pepper
- Ladle the soup into bowls and swirl in a few tablespoons of Parmigiano, pass some for sprinkling at the table