It's nearly time for me to pack things up and head back home to the US. In preparation for our departure there are lots of things to be done, details to be arranged, etc. But a girl's gotta eat! In an effort to avoid many more trips to the market before we leave, I made it my mission to sort of cook my way through our fridge and pantry. Best way to use up remaining vegetables, pasta, canned tomatoes, leftover chicken stock, a partial jar of pesto, etc? Minestrone with Pesto, of course! I've also been saving all of my Parmigiano Reggiano rinds in a zipper storage bag in my freezer just for this sort of application. While there are many reasons why making homemade soup is basically one of the best things ever, one of the best things about it is that it's such a versatile "skill". You can basically use whatever ingredients you have laying around --within reason, of course! Don't anybody go putting cereal or some ridiculous thing in a pot and calling it soup.
Minestrone is a hearty Italian soup that is typically made with lots of vegetables, tomatoes, small tube-shape pasta (Ditaloni), and beans. My version is of the no-bean variety...as with every recipe on this blog. Feel free to add in some borlotti beans if you would like though.
Before we jump straight to the recipe, a few tips for making your own homemade soup if you've never done it before:
1. Don't be overwhelmed. The sky will not fall if it doesn't turn out exactly how you imagined someone's grandmother would make it. Crumble some crackers on top and make no apologies. (Or if it's really a bust, just destroy the evidence and never mention it again.)
2. Use fresh vegetables. I can't say this enough: Fresh vegetables taste so incredibly much better than canned, and have a much better texture in the soup than frozen vegetables do. What is the point of making "homemade" soup if all you're doing is pouring a bunch of canned things together? Still seems like canned soup at that point, in my opinion. Obviously though, the sky also will not fall if you don't use fresh. Do as you wish, I'm not here to judge. (Canned tomatoes are an exception: They are canned at the height of freshness, and are a better option than fresh in some cases if the fresh tomatoes that are available are not of great quality or if tomatoes are not in season.)
3. Start with a mirepoix. What's a mirepoix? It's a fancy term for carrots, celery, and onion. Also referred to as "aromatics" in the cooking world. Mirepoix provides an incredible amount of flavor to all sort of stock/soup/sauce recipes. If you've never used this technique before, you should try it. Or maybe you have used it before, but didn't know the fancy French name for it. Either way, it's simple, delicious, and the perfect way to start a delicious soup.
How to make mirepoix: 1 part chopped carrots, 1 part chopped celery, and 2 parts chopped onion. Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large saucepan or skillet. Add mirepoix and cook over medium heat until softened and beginning to brown slightly, about 10-15 minutes. There you have it- mirepoix. (Pronounced "meer-pwah")
4. Watch the sodium. I prefer to use low-sodium broths when I am using a store-bought broth or stock in a recipe so that I can add salt to suit my own taste. It's much easier to add more salt to a soup that to try and recover from a too-salty soup. Be sure to taste as you go.
5. Make extras and freeze the leftovers. The best way to freeze leftover soup that I have found is to allow it to cool down to room temperature and then portion the soup into labeled large gallon-size zipper freezer bags. Lay the bag flat when you put it in the freezer so that you end up with a frozen "disc" of soup. This allows it to that more evenly, plus it is easier to keep organized in the freezer. To thaw: Place in refrigerator overnight (best way), or let sit in a large bowl of hot water for 10 minutes until it can be removed from the bag. To Reheat: Remove thawed soup from bag and heat in a saucepan set over medium-low heat until heated through.