Minestrone (vegetarian option)
A favourite soup, and one you can make at any time of the year, and it’ll be different but just as delicious. The constants in a Minestrone are that you need a mix of soup vegetables; onions & carrots, leeks & celery in a base broth, to which you add the flesh of a tomato and very important: the rind of a piece of Parmesan (or other hard Italian cheese). The cheesey rind melts down into the soup as you simmer it, giving a deep almost meaty flavour. It doesn’t disappear completely and after half an hour’s cooking it looks like an unattractive deep sea creature, so you take it out before serving. You wouldn’t buy Parmesan just for this; but keep the rind when you have some in the house for your pasta, wrap it up and keep it in the cheese box - it keeps for weeks and you just pop it in the soup. To this basic soup, you can add anything in season – courgette, turnip, peas, little beans, and at the end, add a handful of some green leafy vegetable – cabbage or broccoli or something, and a handful of chopped fresh parsley. It’s a real meal in a bowl.
The Italians have several words for soup, which is an idea I find attractive. A creamy thin soup is a “zuppa”. A “minestra” is a chunky soup with pieces of vegetable in it. So, a “Minestrone” is a specially chunky, even loaded soup. Because the vegetables are all chopped, do try to cut them to a similar size, it looks very smart. I have not given weights for the vegetables as it is so flexible, jut use what you have.
Traditionally Minestrone is made with a chicken broth – simple country cooking using up all the goodness of whatever meat you have to hand – but you can use a vegetable stock if you’d prefer.
If you are making this for a vegetarian friend, please note that Parmesan cheese is NOT vegetarian, as it is made with rennet from the stomach of a calf. You can buy vegetarian hard cheese in most major supermarkets and use it just like Parmesan in this recipe and others.
Serves 4 Timings: 1 hour
Fry the onion, celery, carrot and leek gently in a little vegetable oil for a few minutes to soften them. Add the stock, the tomato and the Parmesan rind and any other harder vegetables you are using – such as turnips or courgettes. Simmer for about 30 minutes.
Taste and adjust the seasoning. Remove the rind of cheese. Add the peas, cabbage and any other delicate green vegetables. Simmer for about 5 minutes, stir in the parsley, and serve with crusty bread.
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