Given the rural roots of minestrone, the essence of the soup is whatever is available from the fields at a particular time of the year. This also explains why a Tuscan's idea of what the principal ingredients should be can differ widely from someone in Piedmont or Puglia. But as with all soups, it is the quality of the stock that will go a long way towards the success or otherwise of the dish.
For those with neither the time nor the inclination to make their own, fresh beef and chicken stock are widely available on the high street, while of the powdered or cubed variety, bouillon is a good choice.
Throw in The VegetablesSoffritto of onions, carrots and celery if a good stock provides the solid foundations for a good soup, then the building process should continue with a soffritto of onions, carrots and celery. To serve four people, use an onion, one medium size carrot and one stick of celery, finely chopping them before adding to a heavy bottomed casserole dish containing either heated extra virgin olive oil or butter, or a combination of the two in a 50:50 split.
Sauté on a gentle heat until the onions and celery have become translucent, then add a finely sliced clove of garlic, allowing it to sizzle only briefly in the fat before adding 1.5 litres of the stock. Paying attention to the welfare of the garlic is important because burning it will taint the finished soup. The next ingredient is plum tomato, specifically four of the fresh variety if available, a small cross cut into the base before dropping in boiling water for 10 seconds, then transferred to iced water and left to cool. This operation will make removal of the skin, which has nothing to contribute, easy. The next stage is to cut each tomato in half lengthways. Scoop out the seeds and watery core, then cut into dice. If fresh tomatoes are not available, use one can of the tinned variety, the juice strained off and the flesh cut into strips.
Wash Thoroughly Before ShreddingAdd the tomatoes to the broth, then take two potatoes, cut into dice and wash to remove the excess starch, and then drop these into the casserole. Next comes some savoy cabbage, the leaves washed thoroughly before shredding, and a can of strained cannellini beans. The beans can be substituted for some peas or green beans if desired.
Let the broth simmer for 30-40 minutes before adding the final ingredient, either short-grain rice or a small pasta shape such as ditali. Depending on whether or not you want your pasta or rice al dente, simmer for a further 10-20 minutes before adjusting the seasoning to taste. In winter the soup should be either served straight off the stove or reheated later, but in summer it can be served cool or with the addition of three or four ice cubes to provide relief from the hot sun Whatever the weather, the finished minestrone should be accompanied by some rustic, crusty bread together with a small bowl and spoon for adding a dusting of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano to the soup.