Minestrone soup is common in Italy. So common, in fact, that the word “minestrone” is synonymous with “zuppa” or “soup.” When one mentions minestrone, what comes to mind is a bean and pasta soup, usually flavored with a bit of tomato. The beauty of this soup is that, aside from these three basic ingredients, almost any vegetable can be added. So minestrone soup can be made again and again and still add variety to your dinner table!
Below is my family’s basic method for minestrone soup. The final soup is vegetarian, but the broth does use leftover meat bones and is a testament to how Italians traditionally use every bit of food they have at home. Ditto for the fresh parsley stalks. Why throw them away when they make a wonderful flavoring for soup broth?
White beans (cannellini) are the most common bean to add to the homemade broth, but other types of beans can be substituted, such as pinto beans or kidney beans (but not black beans). Dried beans work best, but for shorter cooking times, canned beans can be used. Canned chickpeas are a nice addition. Any miniature pasta variety will work. In a pinch, spaghetti can be cut into smaller pieces and added.
If you have a bit of leftover cooked potato, green beans, zucchini, or another vegetable, add it to your minestrone soup at the end of the cooking time. A bit of leftover pork chop, chicken, or beef from the night before? Meat can be added as well. You will be following a long Italian tradition of not wasting food and at the same time turning bits of leftovers into something delicious!
Try our method to make minestrone soup and continue a wonderful Italian tradition for your own family. —Kathryn Occhipinti
For the Meat Broth
About 16 cups of water
4 pork chop bones (leftover/cooked)
1 chicken back (leftover/cooked)
or any other combination of leftover bones
with small amounts of meat clinging to them
2 carrots, each cut into 3–4 pieces
1 stalk of celery, cut into 3–4 pieces
1 onion, skin removed, cut into 4 pieces
1 parsnip cut into 4 pieces (optional)
1 clove garlic, skin removed
bundle of fresh parsley stems
For the Soup
1 lb. dried cannellini beans
or other Italian white beans, pinto beans, kidney beans
2 carrots, peeled and chopped finely*
1 stalk celery, chopped finely*
1 onion, chopped finely*
1 can (28 ounces) chopped tomatoes
1/4–1/2 cup fresh green beans, cut into quarters
1/4 cup dried parsley or 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1–2 cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
1/2 cup Ditali Rigati 59 pasta (Granoro brand)
or minature pasta of choice
*See below for note about how to chop soup vegetables.
Make the Meat Broth (Day 1)
Fill a large stock pot with about 16 cups of water and set it on the stove. You may need a little more or less depending on the number of meat bones you have to make the broth. The amount of water should easily cover the bones and vegetables.
Add the leftover, precooked bones. (This soup can also be made with bones that have not been cooked, of course, but the precooked bones will add a little bit of flavor from the herbs and seasonings already used for the first cooking.)
Add all of the vegetables to the soup pot—carrots, celery, onion, clove of garlic. Note that these vegetables will be cooked until they have released all their flavor and will be removed before making the final soup, so there is no need to peel and chop them finely. Just wash, chop coarsely, and add to the soup pot.
Tie a bunch of parsley stalks together with food string and add them to the soup pot.
Turn the heat up to high and cover the pot to get it to boil. When the water comes to a boil, remove the lid and lower the heat to medium. Keep the water at a low boil and let the bones and vegetables cook slowly for 3–5 hours.
Skim any surface froth that may develop during cooking with a large spoon, but do not stir, or the broth will get cloudy.
Add additional water if necessary and continue cooking until the broth has the desired flavor and has reduced to about 8 cups.
When the broth is done, the meat should be falling off the bone and the vegetables very mushy.
Turn off the heat and let cool. Remove larger pieces of bone and vegetables with a straining ladle to leave the broth in the pot.
Pour the broth through a colander with fine holes to remove any particulate matter, then store it in a large plastic container in the refrigerator overnight.
If using dried beans, sort the beans in a bowl and remove any stones or beans that have not dried properly. Rinse and then place the beans into a non-reactive (plastic or glass) bowl overnight in cold water (about twice the amount of water as beans). Change the water once if you can.
Make the Soup (Day 2)
The next day, remove the broth from the refrigerator. Skim off the fat that will have floated to the top and hardened overnight and discard.
Place the skimmed broth into a large pot, about twice the size as the amount of liquid you have remaining. Add about 4 cups of additional water, becausse the broth will cook down again on the stove top.
Add the dried beans that have been soaked overnight. Cook about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the beans have softened and started to fall apart.
Note that the beans that dissolve will give the soup flavor and thickness, and about half the added beans will dissolve by the end of the total cooking time. The amount of cooking time to get the beans to soften to this point will mostly depend on how old your beans are (older will take longer) and how long you have presoaked them.
When the beans have softened and started to fall apart, you can add your chopped vegetables—carrot, celery, onion, green beans.
Add the can of chopped tomatoes, including the liquid and the dried or chopped parsley.
Cook about 15–20 minutes on medium heat to soften the vegetables.
Add the canned garbanzo beans and any other cooked beans or vegetables at this point. Add optional fresh parsley.
Continue to cook on medium heat for about 15 minutes.
Bring the soup to a boil and then add pasta and cook al dente (a little firm) according to package directions. If not serving the soup right away, undercook it a bit, because pasta will absorb water as it sits in the soup.
Serve in a large soup bowl garnished with fresh parsley.
Refrigerate leftovers to eat later in the week, if there are any!
*How to Chop Soup Vegetables
Carrots: Cut lengthwise to half, and then lengthwise again to get quarters. Line them up side by side and then cut crosswise from the tips to the base of the carrot to get small, even pieces that look like quarters of a circle.
Celery: Cut lengthwise through each celery stalk as many times as needed to give pieces the same thickness as the carrot pieces. (You will need more lengthwise cuts at the thicker part of the celery near the base.) Then cut crosswise from the tip to the base to get small, rectangular pieces of celery about the same size as the carrot pieces.
Onion: Halve the onion lengthwise. Turn each flat side of the onion half down onto the board. Cut through lengthwise, from one side to the other, following the vein in the onion. Then cut through crosswise to make pieces the same size as the other vegetables.
—Adapted from a cooking class given for the Italian-American Society of Peoria, by Kathryn Occhipinti
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, is the author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books and a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
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That’s Italian Minestrone Soup for Your Family