Minestrone is one of those great empty-out-the-fridge dishes. You might even say it’s the original version of Stone Soup, since you add a little bit of this and a little bit of that to the bubbling pot until you’ve got yourself a nice substantial meal.
In general, minestrones tend to start with a basic mirepoix mixture of celery/onions/carrots… though you’ll notice I used fennel instead of celery, because I think fennel is an underappreciated vegetable and deserves to be used more often. From there, a tomato/broth base is stirred in, along with some kind of bean (often cannelini, but that’s pretty flexible too) and some kind of starch (pasta or potatoes are pretty typical, though rice or cubes of stale bread aren’t totally unheard of). Beyond that, any stray vegetables kicking around in your crisper are fair game, as are any leftover Parmesan rinds you might have lurking in the freezer (you are saving those, right?).
Meat eaters can start off the party with some chopped bacon or pancetta, but it’s entirely optional. Even if you skip it, you’ll still end up with a delicious vegetarian soup that needs little more than a hunk of crusty bread to make a hearty winter supper.
BTW, you’ll note that I add cooked pasta at the end, rather than cooking it in the soup itself. Trust me, there’s method to my madness… you see, leftover minestrone in our house tends to end up in the freezer, which generally tends to do bad things to soups containing potatoes and/or pasta. To get around this, I only add pasta to the soup as I’m serving it, so that any leftovers can be frozen without any worries.
4 strips bacon, chopped (optional)
3 medium carrots, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup diced fennel
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups vegetable broth
1 can (28 oz) chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup dry red wine
3 cups roughly chopped kale
1 cup green beans, cut into 1″ pieces
1 can (19 oz) cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (19 oz) navy beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup cooked macaroni or ditalini pasta
Set a large heavy-bottomed pot set over medium-high heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, about 4-5 minutes or until . Stir in carrots, onion, fennel and garlic. Saute until the vegetables are tender and onions are translucent, about 5-7 minutes.
Stir in broth, tomatoes, wine and remaining vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
To serve, divide the pasta evenly between four serving bowls before ladling in the soup. Depending on your mood, you can also choose to top everything off with some cubes of toasted stale bread, a spoonful of pesto, a sprinkling of grated parmesan, a handful of fresh parsley or any combination of the above.