The big soup — it’s “ minestrone.” That’s what it means. And it’s not just the big soup, but the big summer soup because of all the fantastic vegetables you can get at the markets or from your own garden right now: juicy tomatoes, sweet corn, yellow wax beans, green beans, summer squash, fresh lima beans.
Put them all together with a delicious broth — some of those peak-season tomatoes grated into a lusty chicken broth — and you have minestrone, robust vegetable soup, like a big bowl of summer.
There are a zillion variations, such as the one named “The Virtues” from the Abruzzo region , because it conveys the story of seven virtuous women who each added something to the soup (some lovely marjoram or favas or a little diced prosciutto).
Then there’s the kind the Ligurians make with basil sauce stirred in.
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And what about a minestrone “ alla Pugliese” — made with turnip flowers, a pinch of chile powder, traditional Puglian pasta like cavatelli or tortiglioni, and freshly grated Romano cheese.
The point is, minestrone lends itself to spontaneity and adaptation — just the approach that makes sense during the season’s cavalcade of vegetables and herbs.
A bright green swirl of parsley pistou — a blend of parsley, lots of garlic, good olive oil, and salt and pepper — dresses a minestrone of summer squash and tomatoes.
The light broth (summer versions of minestrone tend to have lighter broths) is vegetarian. Sauteed onions and fennel and garlic make an amazing flavor base. And the rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano (never again throw those rinds away ) dropped into the broth while it’s simmering gives the soup substance, infusing it with a salty, nutty flavor. Add cooked tubetti, small tubes of pasta, just before serving.
Or add the delicious touch of your own fresh pasta to a minestrone made with that chicken broth enriched by grated tomatoes (cut tomatoes in half and rub the flesh against the large holes of a box grater, flattening them with the palm of your hand as you go; stop when you’ve reached the peel).
Add yellow wax beans, corn cut from the cob, zucchini and fresh lima beans. Cut the just-made noodles into small pieces and add to the broth during the last minutes of cooking; the homemade pasta is tender and delicate and light.
Finally, a Tuscan-influenced minestrone combines cannellini beans along with small potatoes, rosemary, zucchini and tomato. Garnish it with strips of basil, fresh from the garden.
Fresh basil, tender pasta, a not-too-heavy broth — these details make for summer minestrone — light touches for the big soup.
Summer Minestrone with Parsley Pistou
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
3/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, diced into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1 bulb fennel, cored and cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips
6 cloves minced garlic, divided
2 large tomatoes, cored, peeled and cut into ›-inch pieces
2 (2-inch) pieces Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
21/4 teaspoons salt, divided
3/8 teaspoon white pepper, divided
2 cups parsley leaves
1 yellow squash, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1 zucchini squash, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 cups green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup tube pasta (such as tubetti), cooked according to package directions, about 8 minutes and drained
Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a large pot over high heat until hot. Add the onion, and reduce the heat to medium. Saute the onion until it begins to brown around the edges, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the fennel and continue to saute until the fennel is tender and just begins to brown around the edges, about five more minutes. Stir in two cloves of the minced garlic during the last minute of sauteing.
Add the tomatoes and 6 cups water. Stir in the cheese rinds, 2 teaspoons of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and then cover and simmer 20 minutes.
While the soup is cooking, prepare the pistou. Puree the parsley and the remaining minced garlic cloves in a food processor. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. With the motor running, drizzle in the remaining olive oil until emulsified. Set aside.
Add the squash and the beans to the pot, and continue to simmer until the beans are just cooked, about 10 minutes. Remove the Parmesan rinds from the soup, and stir in the cooked pasta. Ladle the soup into large flat bowls. Spoon a dollop of pistou onto each serving. Serve immediately.
Note: Save the rinds from Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to add to the soup pot. It gives added flavor and substance to this vegetarian soup.
Each serving: 251 calories; 3 grams protein; 15 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 21 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 685 milligrams sodium.