Meatless Monday: Winter Minestrone

What is the difference between minestrone and vegetable soup?

The Internet seems to be unclear on this answer, but it’s likely to be a linguistic thing. Soup in Italian can take on one of three names: brodominestra, and zuppa. The first, as you may have guessed, is broth. That can go to the side for now. The explanation from This Italian Life as is good as I can find:

“(Minestra) comes from the Latin ministrare, which means to ‘administer’, and references the fact that minestra was any type of  food served from a single bowl or pot by the head of the household. Traditionally minestra was the primary, and only meal the servants got.”

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Minestras are soups made with vegetables, and pasta or rice, while zuppas were traditionally made with slices of bread. I say “traditionally” because just about any Italian restaurant will sell you a zuppa and you almost never see the slices of bread floating on top. 

The traditional Italian minestrone is packed with fresh vegetables, contains pasta, and is typically served in a tomato broth. Rarely are they meat or fish based because minestrone was a traditional peasant soup, and meat and fish were too expensive.

American minestrones are based on the seasonally available vegetables. Summertime veggies like zucchini will appear in abundance during that season, while squashes and leafy greens bulk up autumn soups. In winter tomatoes are out of season, so you will use canned here, but root vegetables make up the foundation of this soup. 

WHAT WORKED: A long cooking session. The longer you cook, the more tender the cabbage and thicker the broth.

WHAT DIDN’T: This was pretty seamless. No real issues.

EASE OF PREPARATION: Easy. Add vegetables. Add broth. Cook. The Kid could do this.

BEST FOR: Cold winter days, or a make-ahead dinner.

SERVE WITH: Medium red wine, dry hard cider or a light-bodied beer. And crusty bread. Lots of crusty bread and grated cheese.

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Winter Minestrone
Inspired by NPR’s Splendid Table

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion (about 1 cup), diced
  • 1 large celery stalk, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced, leaves reserved
  • 1 small zucchini, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 fennel bulk, white part removed, sliced, and fronds reserved
  • 1 turnip, trimmed, washed and diced
  • 1 medium head savoy cabbage, outer leaves and stem removed, and sliced thin
  • 15 oz. can Great Northern beans in liquid
  • Large pinch of herbes de provence
  • 8 oz. dry salad pasta (shells, ditalini, wagon wheels or mini farfalle, as I used)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large stock pot over medium-high heat, add the olive oil. When it shimmers, add the onion, celery, carrots, and zucchini. Toss to coat in the oil, and saute until onions soften and become translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the stock and tomatoes, and stir together. Add the fennel, cabbage, turnip, and beans, and stir again. Add all of the herbs and stir one final time. 

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Bring to a boil, reduce to medium-low. Cook for 2 to 3 hours, adding additional stock to thin the soup if needed.

With about 15 minutes before serving, bring the soup to a boil. Add the pasta and cook one minute less than the package’s directions for Al Dente. Serve hot, adjusting flavors with salt and pepper.

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