Minestra means soup in Italian (not to be confused with Zuppa which stands for a specific type of soup typically with seafood). Minestrone, using the suffix “one”, means big soup just as Minestrine could mean a small soup. Needless to say, there’s no such thing as a small soup in the Italian kitchen, but you get my point.
As the leaves begin to fall, the temperature drops, and cultural standards force me to retire my flip flops for shoes I need a little extra comforting. Enter Minestrone. This rich, thick, and humble soup born of necessity and seasonal vegetables is a simple and relaxing way to move into winter. A Minestrone can be made with any combination of vegetables, meat, stock or herbs but I prefer to use whatever’s on hand in the ice-box along with a few staple ingredients like Pancetta and Rosemary. It’s also a great choice for cooking down your sturdy greens like kale, overgrown zucchini, or cardoons. It’s a one pot job, so find a heavy one and let’s get to work:
1 Large Red Onion, diced
5 Cloves Garlic, smashed
1 Cup Shitake or Cremini Mushrooms, sliced thin
3 Celery Stalks, diced
2 Medium Carrots, diced
1 Cup (can) Cannelini Beans
2 Cups Spinach
2 Sprigs Rosemary
2 Sprigs (handful) Sage
2 Bay Leaves
A 1/4″ Slice Pancetta, diced
1 Cup Crushed Tomatoes
6 Cups Chicken Stock
1 Parmigiano Cheese Rind
EV Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper, Grated Parmigiano or Pecorino, Toasted Crunchy Bread
To make this recipe as easy as possible, I recommend chopping, dicing, and slicing all of your ingredients first so they’re ready to add as you begin to cook. You could chop as you go, but that adds to the complexity of it all and soups meant to be lazy in my book.
Place a heavy, large soup pan on med-high heat and add your diced Pancetta. Brown until the fat’s rendered and the pancetta is small and golden brown. Remove and set aside.
Add your sliced mushrooms and crushed garlic. Stir once to coat in the drippings (adding a little oil if needed) and walk away. The key to the mushrooms in this soup is allowing them to brown and caramelize before removing. Once the garlic and mushrooms are golden brown remove and set aside with the browned pancetta.
Add all of your diced onion, celery and carrot along with the sage, rosemary and bay leaves and season with salt. Cook on med-high heat until they’ve started picking up some color. Unlike the sissy French, we’re not lightly sweating these guys – we’re roasting them into sticky sweet submission to pick up as much flavor as possible.
Once the veggies begin to soften, add your crushed tomatoes and cook the entire mixture until you can easily scrape the pan and see the bottom, the thicker the better as long as it does not burn. NOTE: If the veggies begin to stick to the pan and cannot be scraped off, add a little stock to deglaze the pan and keep cooking. Once the veggies and tomatoes have become thick you’re ready to add the mushrooms, garlic and pancetta back along with the stock, spinach, cheese rind and beans. Maybe some chile flakes if you’re feeling spicy.
Cook, stirring now and then, on medium heat with the lid half-on for 30 minutes or more until the stock reduces by 1/3 and the soup becomes thick and coats the back of a spoon. The spinach should wilt completely and the cheese rind should almost be fully melted into the soup. Retrieve the rosemary sprigs and toss.
To finish, add a generous handful of grated Parmigiano or Pecorino, a healthy twist or 5 of black pepper and season with salt to taste.
I prefer my Minestrone in a low, high-walled bowl to make scooping easier with an extra sprinkle of cheese, grind of pepper, and plenty of Extra Virgin Olive Oil drizzled on top. Toast up a few slices of crunchy semolina to dip and you’re living life more comfortably than Oprah in a snuggie on a bed of blow-dried kittens.
PAULIE’S SPARK NOTES: 1.RENDER SOME PORK FAT 2.ADD VEGGIES AND COOK TO A DEEP GOLDEN BRWON 3. ADD STOCK & MORE VEGGIES 4.SIMMER UNTIL THICK 5.SPOON IN ONE HAND, BREAD IN THE OTHER & GO NUTS.