Minestrone soup is one of those glorious dishes that can be completely different depending on what time of year you make it and so which vegetables are in season.
Along with carrots, pretty much a given whatever the season, this version includes English potatoes, leeks and onions, beautiful Fenland celery which has a short season of November to January and a lovely Lincolnshire savoy cabbage – my favourite vegetable to photograph, just in case you were wondering.
Traditionally Italians use borlotti beans for minestrone, but any others such as butterbeans, cannelloni or even chick peas would be lovely. I’d steer clear of baked beans though – save those for your jacket potatoes.
You’ll need a fairly big pan for this, if you were smart enough to buy a Le Creuset cast iron pan while you still had a bit of disposable income, these are my favourite for making a big pan of soup. If you still have a bit of disposable income but haven’t yet invested in the cast iron pan of dreams – now is the time to do it my friends. You can omit the flour if needed – it just gives the liquid a slightly thicker texture – but perhaps you don’t like that anyway. Also, you can chop all your vegetables up to your desired level of chunky-ness for this – I’m of the bigger-is-better camp but also appreciate the argument for a daintier soup.
1 Leek – chopped and washed
1 large yellow onion – peeled and chopped
2 sticks of celery – washed and chopped
2 Large carrots – peeled or scrubbed and chopped
400g potatoes – peeled and chopped
2 large cloves of garlic – finely diced
a small handful of thyme – picked from woody stems and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon of plain flour
1 tin of plum tomatoes (you can use chopped but I always think whole are far superior)
About 700ml to 1ltr of stock – chicken or vegetable
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
Pinch of dried chilli flakes (optional)
A good handful of orzo or any other pasta you have – this is a good chance to use up dribs and drabs
1 tin of borlotti beans – drained and rinsed
½ head of savouy cabbage – stalks removed, finely shredded and washed
Put your pan onto a medium heat with a good lug of oil – whichever you favour. Add the onion, leeks and celery and cook for 5-10 minutes until translucent, stirring often. Add the carrots, potatoes, garlic and thyme and cook until the garlic and thyme are fragrant and just starting to brown. Now add your flour if using and stir well but carefully to combine. Add the tomato puree and tin of tomatoes – squashing the whole plums as they go in and add enough stock to generously cover everything. Bring to a simmer, cover and leave to gently bubble away for 10 mins.
Season to taste at this point with sea salt, black pepper and chilli flakes if using.
Now you can add your pasta and beans and you may want to add some more stock at this point. Continue to simmer for just short of your pasta’s cooking time, giving it a good stir after a couple of minutes to check the pasta hasn’t stuck to the bottom of the pan.
Just before your pasta is cooked, add the cabbage and stir in gently so it is all covered by the liquid – again adding more stock if necessary. Cook the cabbage for as little time as you can – it’s lovely if you can retain the deep green of the leaves rather than letting it boil to death.
This doesn’t really need serving with bread as there are so many carbs in it already, however, far be it from me to deny you a buttery slice of sourdough on a cold winters day.