Although there is no authentic list of ingredients, Italian cooks say it's possible to tell where a minestrone was made by what it contains. You can generally expect a bowl of minestrone to have carrots, onion, celery and beans, but if the soup (or zuppa) was prepared in the northern part of the country, there will also be rice.
Along the Riviera, minestrones are seasoned with fresh herbs, and in southern Italy, they are made with tomatoes, garlic and pasta. Ligurian cooks on the Gulf of Genoa, where fresh basil is plentiful, use lots of vegetables in their minestrones and garnish them with pesto.
The word "minestrone" refers to a large or rich minestra, which describes a thick soup. According to culinary historians, ships in the port of Genoa once acted as floating soup kitchens and served minestrone to sailors who anchored alongside in small boats.
We had no specific region in mind when we made our version of minestrone, but we wanted it filled with vegetables and still be soup. When we read about minestrones, we learned there is a technique to preparing them and that they are not for cooks in a hurry.
When making minestrone, the vegetables are gradually added to the pot; while some are being prepared, others are sauteing. Italian cookbook writer and teacher Marcella Hazan says this produces a better soup. Another thing that helps the flavor is a long cooking time; Italians cook their minestrones for hours. At the very least, the soup should simmer one hour, preferably two. The cooking, however, can be done in stages. We served some of our minestrone after an hour on the stove, refrigerated the rest overnight and simmered it again the next day.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 medium carrots, diced (about 1 cup)
1 celery rib, diced (about 3/4 cup)
2 medium zucchini, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
3 medium potatoes (about 3/4 pound), unpeeled and diced
3 cups thinly sliced Savoy cabbage
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 (14-ounce) cans lower-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally, 6 minutes or until softened. Add carrots and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Add zucchini and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Add potatoes, cabbage and cook, mixing occasionally, 3 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes, broth, water, rosemary, salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a simmer; adjust heat and simmer gently 1 to 2 hours. Serve with Parmesan cheese if desired. Serves 6.
NUTRITION PER SERVING: 200 calories, 5 grams fat, 7 grams protein, 31 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams fiber, 900 milligrams sodium.
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