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One of the most beloved soups of Italy is minestrone. While the Italian word for soup is “minestra” – minestrone translates as “big soup” – a reference to the heartiness of this thick, substantial soup. It’s a simple, rustic, country-style soup packed with fresh vegetables, beans, and either pasta or rice. Throughout Italy, even when visiting the same restaurant, you’re not likely to ever eat the same recipe twice, as it is made with whatever vegetables are on hand – adding “verdure di stagione” (seasonal vegetables) is how most recipes are written. Nonetheless, minestrone commonly contains onions, celery, carrots, tomatoes and often some shredded cabbage.

In Milan minestrone will include the regional Arborio rice rather than pasta and in Rome chefs insist that it must include Borlotti beans grown in that area. In Genoa minestrone has an abundance of herbs, including pesto. Minestrone is a perfect soup for Lent as it’s vegetarian although you could make it with a chicken or beef stock.

I like to make minestrone when I have a hodgepodge of vegetables in my fridge. It gives me an opportunity to also use up a box of tiny pasta such as ditalini, orzo or even pastina or alphabet pasta (depending on my audience). Despite its humble origins in “cucina povera” (poor rural peasant food), the addition of beans packs a lot of protein into the soup. I generally add Great Northern beans as they contain over 9 grams of protein per ½ cup and more potassium than a banana. What’s not to love? They are also the right size match for the tiny pasta and the uniformly chopped vegetables, helping to ensure that everything cooks at the same rate.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ large Vidalia (sweet) onion, chopped
4 ribs celery, destringed and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
28 ounce can petite diced tomatoes
5 cups vegetable stock
2 cups shredded cabbage (may substitute spinach or kale)
2 cups seasonal vegetables (zucchini, squash, corn, peas, green beans – your choice)
15.5 ounce can of Great Northern Beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup dried Ditalini pasta (or other similar small pasta)
Chopped fresh herbs (optional)

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion, celery, carrots and garlic, sauté until the vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes.

While these are cooking, chop your other vegetables into relatively uniform pieces. If you’re using green beans, these can be cut into 2-inch slices.

Add the tomatoes, vegetable stock, cabbage and seasonal vegetables to the pot. Bring to a boil then simmer for 15 minutes until the vegetables are just beginning to soften.

Add the beans and tiny pasta and let the soup continue to simmer until the pasta is cooked al dente, about 10 minutes. If your pasta seems too thick, you can add some additional stock or water. If you have any leftovers, you will probably need to add more water before reheating as the soup will thicken in the fridge.