Minestrone has been a core component of the menu at Peter Lowell’s since we first started dreaming. This year-round soup is, at its core, a bridge between American and Italian cooking. It has been a part of American cuisine for so long that we barely associate it with its Italian roots. Americans often add pasta to minestrone, but we prefer a more traditional version. No matter where you are, the essence of minestrone remains the same — a simple vegetable soup with tomatoes, beans and greens. From there one can go in many directions. The recipe below represents our version of this soup, one we have cooked almost daily for eight years. We change small things but keep the basic recipe the same.
Here are a couple of things to think about when making this soup.
1) Beans are best when cooked fresh (as long as they are properly seasoned along the way), as apposed to using canned. But it’s also more time-consuming. Because the beans in this soup are added at the end of the cooking process, you can cook them simultaneously while prepping your soup. For this reason I highly recommend cooking your own beans. We most often use cannellini beans as they seem to make the creamiest soup (which we like). Alternatively you can use heirloom beans such as Good Mother Stallard or Runner Cannellini (a larger cannellini). You can also use an everyday bean such as garbanzo or pinto for varying effects.
2) The greens you use will have a big impact on the final product. Tuscan kale (also known as dinosaur kale, cavolo nero, or Lacinato kale) is the one we use most often, though it’s not necessarily the best. Chard and escarole lend a soft, supple quality to the soup that can be very enjoyable. Collards may be used, but the texture can be somewhat tough. Rapini (also known as broccoli rabe) can be delicious as well, though I wouldn’t recommend using it for your first attempt.
Makes 8 quarts of soup — enough for a nice dinner party with some leftovers! With leftovers try making ribollita!
1 quart small diced yellow onion
½ quart small diced carrots (peeled)
½ quart small diced celery
2 T finely minced garlic
3lbs canned whole tomatoes
2 large heads escarole (or 3 bunches chard or Tuscan kale)
1 quart cooked beans
good quality extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano-Reggiano for finishing
Add 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil to a large Le Creuset or soup pot. Bring to a high heat and add soffritto (your onions, carrots and celery) and 1 tablespoon of salt, turning down and stirring intermittently until the onions are translucent. No color! You want to sweat the ingredients to release flavor without any caramelization. Once translucent, add garlic and stir, cooking for another minute or two. Next, add your tomatoes one by one, crushing with your hands as you add. Add all tomatoes and juice. At this point you will have a stew. Stir and cook for another 10 minutes. Add washed and coarsely chopped greens along with another tablespoon of salt and chili flakes to taste. Stir and cover for 5 minutes, allowing the greens to wilt. Add cold water until you reach just over 7 quarts of soup.
Stir and bring to a boil. Once boiling, taste broth and add seasoning. At this point, as it is cooking, you want to begin to reach the desired flavor. Add salt and chili flakes, retasting every 10 minutes. The amount of cooking time can vary, but I suggest letting this soup simmer for at least 30 minutes. Once tenderness is reached and seasoning is complete, add cooked (and previously seasoned) beans and allow to cook for another 5 minutes.
Serve with the finest extra virgin olive oil, a healthy amount of Parmigiano and some crusty bread!