Minestrone

MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

TIME: 45 to 60 minutes

The Italian take on what-have-you vegetable soup and, like most others, infinitely and easily varied. A mix of vegetables, always with tomato, is all you’re looking for, though combining “hard” and “soft” vegetables improves the results. If you have an old piece of Parmesan lying around, cut the rind into small pieces and add it along with the first batch of vegetables; it’ll become chewy during cooking and is not only edible but (not surprisingly) delicious.

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

11/2 to 2 cups hard vegetables, like potatoes, winter squash, parsnips, or turnips, peeled if necessary and cut into smaller than 1/2-inch dice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 cups vegetable stock or water

1 cup cored, peeled, seeded, and chopped tomato (canned is fine; include the juice)

11/2 to 2 cups soft vegetables, like green beans, cooked dried beans, zucchini or summer squash, or dark, leafy greens like kale or collards, peeled if necessary and cut into smaller than 1/2-inch dice

1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)

01 Put 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large, deep saucepan or casserole over medium heat. When hot, add the onion, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes.

02 Add the hard vegetables and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for a minute or two, then add the stock and the tomato; bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently. Cook, stirring every now and then, until the vegetables are fairly soft and the tomatoes broken up, about 15 minutes. (You may prepare the soup in advance up to this point. Cover, refrigerate for up to 2 days, and reheat before proceeding.)

03 Add the soft vegetables and the parsley and adjust the heat once again so the mixture simmers. Cook until all the vegetables are very tender, about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, add the remaining olive oil, and serve, passing the cheese at the table if you like.

Variations

Pistou. Traditionally you’d use pesto with a lot of garlic here: Stir in 1/2 cup or more freshly made Traditional Pesto or any of its variations.

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Bean Soup). One of the best bean soups: Use whatever vegetables you like (about half as much) and add 2 cups cooked beans—kidney, white, borlotti, chickpeas, canellini, or a mixture—with the soft vegetables. At the same time, add 1/2 to 1 cup small pasta, like tubetti, or larger pasta broken into bits. About 5 minutes before serving, stir in a teaspoon (or more, to taste) of minced garlic.

Herbed Minestrone. Again, use what you have on hand and to taste; but, for example: In Step 1, add the leaves from a fresh sprig of oregano, marjoram, or rosemary. In Step 3, finish with a few more leaves. Or finish with 1/2 cup or so shredded fresh basil.