Minestrone 150 150 David Rosengarten

bigstock-Minestrone-Soup-42923968For many decades, this great vegetable soup—a specialty of Liguria—has been the headliner soup in Italian-American restaurants, and has been simmering in the pot of many an Italian-American grandma. There are many, many forms of it—both there and here—but the American minestrone most typically includes tomatoes, beans, cabbage and small pasta. The following version—one of the most haunting and delicious I’ve ever had anywhere—owes its success to the inclusion of a rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano in the soup pot (which deepens the flavor immeasurably), and a last-minute swirl of basil, garlic and oil (sort of a thin pesto, recalling both Liguria, and the pistou that’s swirled into a similar soup in the south of France.)

Serves 6

1 cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium leek, pale green and white parts only, split, washed and sliced 1/2″ thick (about 2/3 cup)
1 small onion, cut into 1/2″ pieces (about 1/2 cup)
2 small carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces (about 2/3 cup)
1 small russet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces (about 3/4 cup)
1 small zucchini, cut into 1/2″ pieces (about 2/3 cup)
6 large cloves, plus 2 additional large cloves of garlic, minced
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) tomato paste
1 small head escarole, washed and chopped coarsely (about 2 1/2 cups, loosely packed)
1/2 small head Savoy cabbage, cored and chopped coarsely (about 4 cups, loosely packed)
1 (28 ounce) can of tomatoes, chopped coarsely and drained
5 cups canned chicken stock
5 cups water
Rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (5″x 5″ or larger, in one or two pieces)
Kosher salt
1cup firmly packed basil leaves, rinsed, dried and chopped finely
3/4 cup ditalini, small elbow macaroni, or other small pasta shape
1 (14 ounce) can of navy or cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. In a large stockpot over high heat, add half of the olive oil. When the oil is shimmering and slides easily in the pan, add the leek, onion, carrot, potato, zucchini and 6 cloves of garlic. Cook without stirring for about 4 minutes to allow the vegetables to begin browning. Reduce the heat the medium-high and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until the edges have begun to turn golden, reducing the heat if they threaten to burn, about 5 or 6 minutes more. Add the tomato paste and cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the escarole, cabbage, tomatoes, chicken stock, water, cheese rind, 2 teaspoons of salt (a bit more if using unsalted stock) and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a bare simmer and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the remaining garlic, remaining olive oil and the basil. Cover with plastic and set aside.

2. After 45 minutes, stir in the pasta, cook for 5 minutes and stir in the beans. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning with salt. When the pasta is just cooked through, ladle the soup into large bowls and garnish each serving with a heaping tablespoon of basil-garlic oil, dribbled over the entire surface. Grate a tablespoon of cheese in the center of each bowl and serve, passing the grater with the remaining cheese at the table.

Photo: Katrin Morenz/Flickr Creative Commons

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