About 5 years ago, I gave up all dairy products. It turns out I am allergic to milk, butter, cheese, etc. Prior to that, I had been a vegetarian for about 25 years. But without cheese, I was hungry…very hungry. So I gradually fell off the vegetarian wagon and started eating small amounts of chicken and of beef.
Even when I was a vegetarian, soup was one of my staples. As a student, I would make a big pot that would last me at least a week. Minestrone was one of my favourites – the ingredients were both easy to find at the grocery store and affordable.
My student days are long behind me, but I still make minestrone soup on a regular basis. Even though I am no longer a vegetarian, I still prefer vegetable and/or bean-based soups.
As far as I am concerned, minestrone soup is a nearly perfect dish – it’s simple to prepare, easy to take for lunch and nutritious. It freezes relatively well – the pasta may break up into smaller pieces, but they still taste fine. Plus, it has the added bonus of using up lots of vegetables in your fridge.
My original recipe probably came from the Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. Over the years, I’ve consulted other recipes and gradually developed my own minestrone recipe. The classic ingredients are generally onion, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, and zucchini. There are lots of variations. One thing I learned early on is that canned tomatoes are a cook’s best friend. Just open a can and dump in the soup pot. If you use diced canned tomatoes, it’s even easier, as you don’t even have to break up the tomatoes.
I usually use the standard ingredients, but I’m not a purist. If I can’t find one of the ingredients in the refrigerator or cupboard, I just substitute it with something else. I have indicated approximate amounts, but soup is pretty forgiving. If you like carrots, but don’t care much for potatoes, just add more of what you like and less of what you don’t.
What’s in Your Fridge Minestrone
1 – 2 tsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 medium carrots, chopped (peeling optional)
1-2 medium potatoes, turnip, parsnips, cubed – or a combination of all three (peeling optional)
large handful of green beans, ends snipped and cut into smaller pieces
1 can (19 oz) tomatoes
6-8 cups of water or vegetable broth/stock (or a combination)
1 can kidney beans (15 oz) or 1 cup green lentils
1/2 cup dried pasta (fusilli, shells, etc)
1 medium zucchini, halved and sliced
2-3 cups fresh spinach, swiss chard or kale, washed and torn into small pieces
salt, pepper and other herbs (basil, oregano, thyme), as desired
Heat oil over medium heat and saute onions until soft. Add carrots and cook until almost tender. Add potatoes (plus turnip and parsnips if using) and continue to cook until vegetables are tender. Add green beans and cook for a couple of minutes. Add canned tomatoes and water/stock/broth – I usually just add water to the empty tomato tin at least twice. Add kidney beans or lentils (sometimes I use both). Combine ingredients well.
Turn heat up to high and bring liquid to a boil. Add pasta. If using kale or swiss chard, add with the pasta. Turn heat down to low, cover and let simmer for 15-20 mins, stirring occasionally, until lentils/pasta/kale are tender. Add any seasonings/herbs and zucchini. If using spinach, add as well. Cook for another 5 minutes.