MINESTRONE IS, LITERALLY, A “BIG SOUP,” a vegetable soup that also contains beans and pasta or rice. The flavor is deep and Mediterranean, and has savory layers of garlic and onion, tomatoes, and Parmesan, along with simmered beans in some soups, lentils in others. In winter I add hearty greens like kale and cabbage, and in spring and summer I add brighter vegetables—green beans, fresh favas, or peas. You might think of this as a winter dish, but on hot Provençal days you will find their version of minestrone, soupe au pistou, on many a table, served warm rather than hot, and filled with the summer’s bounty of vegetables.
In this chapter I’m providing three different templates for minestrone. One calls for dried beans and takes longer, but is no more difficult than the other two. Another calls for canned beans, and the third is a lentil minestrone. The advantage to using dried beans or lentils is that the beans and lentils produce a savory broth. The advantage to using canned beans is that the process is quicker.
Note: All of the minestrones can be made as vegan soups by omitting the Parmesan rind and Parmesan cheese.

Minestrone with Dried Beans

VEGAN WITHOUT THE CHEESE /// MAKES 6 GENEROUS SERVINGS
When I make minestrone using dried beans, I begin by simmering the soaked beans in water with a halved onion, a couple of crushed garlic cloves, and a bay leaf to obtain a savory broth. Then I make a flavorful tomato base with tomatoes and aromatics, to which I add the beans and their broth, as well as additional vegetables. You can make the base with a small or large can of tomatoes; it depends on how tomato-y you like your soup. I don’t have a preference so I’m giving you the choice. Any number of vegetables can be added—potatoes, squash (winter or summer), cabbage, or greens work year-round, and in spring and summer it’s nice to add green beans or peas, which I like to cook separately and add shortly before serving for color. Soup pasta usually goes in at the end, but rice can be used as well.
BEANS
½ pound (about 11⁄8 cups) dried white beans such as navy, cannellini, or borlotti beans, washed, picked over, and soaked for at least 4 hours (or do the quick-soak method).
2 quarts water
1 medium onion, halved and peeled
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
Salt
TOMATO BASE
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large or 2 medium carrots, diced (½-inch dice, or smaller if desired)
1 celery stalk, diced (½-inch dice, or smaller if desired)
Salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, cleaned well, and thinly sliced
3 to 4 garlic cloves (to taste), minced
1 (14.5- or 28-ounce, to taste) can chopped tomatoes with juice
½ teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon chopped fresh
FINISHED SOUP
2 medium turnips, peeled and diced
A bouquet garni: Parmesan rind, bay leaf, and a couple sprigs each of parsley and thyme
Freshly ground pepper
½ cup elbow macaroni or small shells
Freshly grated Parmesan for serving

  1. For the beans: Drain the soaked beans and place in a large saucepan with the water, onion, garlic, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer 30 minutes. Add salt to taste (I usually use 1 teaspoon salt per quart of water and adjust again later) and continue to simmer another 30 to 45 minutes. The beans should be just tender, or almost. Remove from the heat and use tongs to remove and discard the onion, garlic, and bay leaf.
  2. Meanwhile, for the tomato base: Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven and add the onion, carrots, and celery. Add a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are just about tender, about 5 minutes. Add the parsley and leeks and cook, stirring, until the leeks are slightly wilted, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic along with another generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, just until the garlic smells fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice, thyme, and salt to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down somewhat and smell fragrant, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the beans and their broth to the tomato base and stir together.
  4. To finish the soup: Add the turnips and bouquet garni and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The beans should be tender and the broth very tasty. Taste, adjust the salt, and add pepper to taste. Discard the bouquet garni.
  5. Stir in the pasta and continue to simmer until cooked al dente, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve, topping each bowl with freshly grated Parmesan.
    ADVANCE PREPARATION: The soup tastes even better a day after it’s made, but don’t add and simmer the pasta until you are ready to serve.
    SUBSTITUTIONS AND ADDITIONS:
    • Arborio rice: Substitute 1⁄3 cup Arborio rice for the pasta; it will take about 15 minutes to cook.
    • Shell beans: Shell beans are increasingly available in farmers’ markets. They’re the fresh version of dried beans, and have a delicious texture and flavor. You can substitute the same volume of shell beans (out of the pod) for dried beans. They do not require soaking, and require only 45 minutes of cooking in Step 1. Add salt to the water at the beginning of cooking.

Minestrone with Canned Beans

VEGAN WITHOUT THE CHEESE /// MAKES 6 GENEROUS SERVINGS
A minestrone using canned beans is quicker to throw together than the dried bean version, but you won’t wind up with as rich a bean broth. Nevertheless the savory tomato soup base produces a soup with great depth of flavor. As in the dried bean minestrone, you have lots of choices for vegetables to add: cabbage, potatoes any time of year, winter or summer squash, fresh green beans or greens (both of which I cook separately and add shortly before serving), fresh or frozen peas.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large or 2 medium carrots, diced (½ inch or smaller)
1 celery stalk, diced (½ inch or smaller)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Salt
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved, cleaned well, and sliced thin
3 to 4 garlic cloves (to taste), minced
1 (14.5- or 28-ounce, to taste) can chopped tomatoes with juice
½ teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon chopped fresh
2 quarts water
2 turnips, peeled and diced
A bouquet garni: Parmesan rind, bay leaf, and a couple sprigs each of parsley and thyme
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini or chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
½ cup elbow macaroni or small shells
Freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan for serving

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven and add the onion, carrots, celery, and parsley. Cook, stirring, until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and continue to cook, stirring often, until just about tender, a few more minutes. Add the leeks and cook, stirring, until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, stir together until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and their juice and the thyme and cook, stirring, until the tomatoes have cooked down and smell fragrant, about 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in the water, turnips, and bouquet garni, and bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste (about 2 teaspoons), reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 45 minutes. Stir in the canned beans. Taste and adjust the salt. Discard the bouquet garni.
  3. Add the pasta to the soup and simmer until the pasta is cooked al dente, 5 to 10 minutes. Grind in some pepper and taste and adjust seasonings. It should be savory and rich-tasting. Serve, topping each bowl with freshly grated Parmesan.
    ADVANCE PREPARATION: This keeps for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator, but it’s best to wait until ready to serve before you add the pasta.

Minestrone with Cabbage and Winter Squash

VEGAN WITHOUT THE CHEESE /// MAKES 6 GENEROUS SERVINGS
The colder months bring winter squash, sometimes potatoes, and cruciferous greens like cabbage and kale to my hearty soups. Cabbage and winter squash simmer along with the soup base, sweetening the broth. I often choose chickpeas as the beans in my winter minestrones. They go well with the heartier vegetables. In this variation, I wilt cabbage with the other vegetables in the tomato base, and add the winter squash along with the beans and their liquid.
Make the Minestrone with Dried Beans template with the following additional vegetables and specifications:
½ medium cabbage, chopped or shredded
1 pound winter squash, such as butternut, peeled and diced
2 to 4 additional tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (to taste)

  1. Simmer the beans as directed in Step 1.
  2. In Step 2, add the cabbage to the tomato base when you add the garlic and salt. Cook, stirring, until the cabbage has begun to wilt and the garlic smells fragrant, about 3 minutes. Continue through Step 3.
  3. In Step 4, add the winter squash when you add the turnips and bouquet garni and bring to a simmer. If the broth seems low, add a little water so that everything is submerged. Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour.
  4. In Step 5, stir in the additional parsley just before serving.
    ADVANCE PREPARATION: The soup tastes even better a day after it’s made, but don’t add and simmer the pasta until you are ready to serve.

Minestrone with Cabbage and Winter Squash (Canned Bean Version)

VEGAN WITHOUT THE CHEESE /// MAKES 6 GENEROUS SERVINGS
Make the Minestrone with Canned Beans template with the following additional vegetables and specifications:
½ medium cabbage, chopped or shredded
1 pound winter squash, such as butternut, peeled and diced
2 to 4 additional tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (to taste)

  1. In Step 1, add the cabbage when you add the garlic and cook until the cabbage has begun to wilt and the garlic smells fragrant, about 3 minutes. Continue with the step.
  2. In Step 2, add the winter squash when you add the turnips and bouquet garni and cook for 1 hour. Continue with the step.
  3. In Step 3, stir in the additional parsley just before serving.

Minestrone with Spring and Summer Vegetables

VEGAN WITHOUT THE CHEESE /// MAKES 6 GENEROUS SERVINGS
Brilliant and sweet green vegetables—peas, beans, summer squash—brighten my big soups in spring and summer. In the spring, peas and favas go into the pot; they give way to green beans and a mix of green and yellow summer squash during the summer. I like white beans in these minestrones, but in mid- and especially in late summer, when fresh shell beans hit the markets, I substitute them for the dried beans. They require much less time in the pot, and nothing can beat their creamy texture.
Because I can’t bear to cook my beautiful bright green vegetables until the color fades to olive, I am not traditional in my approach to minestrone and its Provençal cousin, soupe au pistou. I may add a small portion of the vegetables to the pot to simmer for some time so that they contribute their sweetness to the broth; but I blanch the larger portion separately and stir the beautiful produce into the pot shortly before serving.
The classic Provençal enrichment for this soup is pistou, a basil pesto without pine nuts, sometimes with a tomato thrown in (the recipe is on this page). If I don’t want to take the time to make pistou, I’ll throw in a handful of slivered basil leaves or chopped parsley just before serving.
Make the Minestrone with Dried Beans template with the following additional ingredients and specifications:
½ to ¾ pound summer squash (a mix of dark and light green and yellow is nice), diced
1 to 1½ pounds fresh peas or favas (or a combination), shelled and favas skinned
½ pound green beans or a combination of green and yellow beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
2 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or slivered basil, or ½ cup Pistou or Parsley Pesto, for garnish
Freshly grated Parmesan for serving

  1. Simmer the beans as directed in Step 1.
  2. Meanwhile, make the tomato base as directed in Step 2 and add the beans and broth in Step 3.
  3. In Step 4, add half the summer squash, and bring to a simmer. (If the broth seems low, add a little water so that everything is submerged.) Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour. Taste, adjust the salt, and add pepper to taste.
  4. While the soup is simmering, separately blanch the peas and/or favas and the green beans in a pot of salted boiling water until tender but still bright green. I suggest 4 to 5 minutes for peas and green beans, the same for skinned favas unless they are very large, in which case they may need more like 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of cold water, drain, and set aside. Steam the remaining summer squash for about 5 minutes or until the flesh is translucent and the skin is bright.
  5. Continue with Step 5, stirring in the parsley or basil (but not the pistou or pesto) and the blanched and steamed vegetables after the pasta is cooked, and simmering until the vegetables are heated through.
  6. Serve, topping each bowl with freshly grated Parmesan. If using pistou or pesto, add a generous spoonful to each bowl for guests to stir in. Pass additional grated Parmesan at the table.
    ADVANCE PREPARATION: The soup tastes even better a day after it’s made, but don’t add and simmer the pasta or add the bright green blanched and steamed vegetables until you are ready to serve.
    SUBSTITUTIONS AND ADDITIONS: Substitute 1⁄3 cup Arborio rice for the pasta; it will take about 15 minutes to cook.

Minestrone with Spring and Summer Vegetables (Canned Bean Version)

VEGAN WITHOUT THE CHEESE /// MAKES 6 GENEROUS SERVINGS
Make the Minestrone with Canned Beans template with the following additional vegetables and specifications:
½ to ¾ pound summer squash (a mix of dark and light green and yellow is nice), diced
1 to 1½ pounds fresh peas or favas (or a combination), shelled and favas skinned
½ pound green beans or a mix of green and yellow beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
2 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or slivered basil, or ½ cup Pistou or Parsley Pesto, for garnish

  1. Cook the aromatics and tomatoes as directed in Step 1.
  2. While the soup is simmering, separately blanch the peas and/or favas and green beans in a pot of salted boiling water until tender but still bright green. I suggest 4 to 5 minutes for peas and green beans, the same for skinned favas unless they are very large, in which case they may need more like 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of cold water, drain, and set aside. Steam the summer squash for about 5 minutes or until the flesh is translucent and the skin is bright.
  3. Continue with Steps 2 and 3, stirring in the parsley or basil (but not the pistou or pesto) and the blanched and steamed green vegetables after the pasta is cooked and simmering until the vegetables are heated through.
  4. Serve, topping each bowl with freshly grated Parmesan. If using pistou or pesto, add a generous spoonful to each bowl for guests to stir in. Pass additional grated Parmesan at the table.
    ADVANCE PREPARATION: The soup tastes even better a day after it’s made, but don’t add and simmer the pasta or add the bright green blanched and steamed vegetables until you are ready to serve.
    SUBSTITUTIONS AND ADDITIONS: Substitute 1⁄3 cup Arborio rice for the pasta; it will take about 15 minutes to cook.

Lentil Minestrone

VEGAN WITHOUT THE CHEESE /// MAKES 4 TO 6 SERVINGS
Lentils cook more quickly than beans, so they don’t require a separate pot and a separate step, and they yield a wonderful broth. Make sure to include a Parmesan rind in your bouquet garni; it helps to accentuate the umami flavor of the lentils. Brown, green, and black lentils all work well here; red lentils do not (they break down too much and do not have the same flavor as the other varieties). I tend to use brown the most often because that’s the easiest to find in the supermarket.
1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small to medium onion, chopped
1 large or 2 medium carrots, cut into ½-inch dice
1 celery stalk, cut into ½-inch dice
3 to 4 large garlic cloves (to taste), minced
Salt
1 (14- or 28-ounce, to taste) can chopped tomatoes with juice
½ teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon fresh leaves
½ pound lentils (about 11⁄8 cups), picked over and rinsed
2 quarts water
A bouquet garni: Parmesan rind, bay leaf, and a few sprigs each of parsley and thyme
Freshly ground pepper
½ cup soup pasta or Arborio rice, or 1 to 1½ cups cooked rice (white or brown)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Freshly grated Parmesan for serving

  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, and add the onion, carrots, and celery. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are just about tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring, just until the garlic smells fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice, the thyme, and salt to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down somewhat and smell fragrant, about 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in the lentils and water and bring to a boil. Add the bouquet garni and reduce the heat to low. Season to taste with salt (about 2 teaspoons to begin with; you will probably add more later). Cover and simmer until the lentils are tender and the broth fragrant, about 1 hour. Discard the bouquet garni.
  3. Season the soup with pepper and stir in the pasta or uncooked rice. Simmer until the pasta or rice is tender, another 10 to 15 minutes. (Alternatively, add cooked rice to each bowl when you serve the soup.) Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir in the parsley (if using). Serve, topping each bowlful with a generous spoonful of freshly grated Parmesan.
    ADVANCE PREPARATION: The soup keeps well for about 3 days in the refrigerator. However lentil soups tend to thicken, so you will need to add more liquid when you reheat. In addition, the pasta and rice will continue to absorb liquid, so add shortly before serving if you are making the soup ahead. The soup freezes well.

Lentil Minestrone with Leeks, Cabbage, and Kale

VEGAN WITHOUT THE CHEESE /// MAKES 4 TO 6 SERVINGS
Lentils and kale make a delicious and attractive match—earthy, savory, vegetal. Cabbage is optional but contributes sweetness to the mix. I wilt it with the leeks and other vegetables in the tomato base, then add the kale to the simmering soup.
Make the Lentil Minestrone template with the following additional vegetables and specifications:
1 or 2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
½ small head cabbage, chopped or shredded (optional)
1 generous bunch kale (preferably black kale)—about ¾ pound—stemmed, leaves washed thoroughly in 2 changes of water, and cut into strips or chopped

  1. In Step 1, after softening the onion, carrots, and celery, add the leeks and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until the leeks begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in the cabbage when you add the garlic and salt. Cook, stirring, until the cabbage has begun to wilt and the garlic smells fragrant, about 3 minutes. Continue with the step.
  2. In Step 2, add the kale after the lentils have cooked for 45 minutes, and cook for 15 minutes longer, until the lentils and kale are tender and the broth fragrant. Remove the bouquet garni. Taste and adjust the salt.
  3. Continue the recipe with Step 3.
    ADVANCE PREPARATION: This keeps well for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator, but the pasta and rice will continue to absorb liquid. Add shortly before serving if you are making the soup ahead.
    SUBSTITUTIONS AND ADDITIONS: You can substitute other greens such as chard or turnip greens for the kale.