Minestrone are usually described as all vegetable but that’s not the whole story. Minestrone will often have legumes in them in addition to vegetables, but will usually be based on a meat broth and be served topped with cheese. The stock is usually beef but chicken is almost as common. Some versions have pork rind boiled in them to add flavour. Calling a Minestrone an “all vegetable” soup would be misleading to vegetarians.
Legumes such as beans are cooked before being added to the soup. You can mash some of them with a fork so that they will also act as a thickener. The pasta used is always small pasta, such as a shaped pasta or broken spaghetti.
Disregard recipes or writers that tell you that “classic” recipes always include certain ingredients. Some recipes, for instance, will state that red kidney beans are mandatory for true traditional recipes, which is interesting considering that kidney beans are a New World food. Perhaps what they’re thinking about is traditional Aztec minestrones.
There are a zillion variations of Minestrone. It was “cuccina povera” (poor folk food), and people would use what they had. There were traditions, but no set recipes. Versions changed both depending on the season and where in Italy they were made. In the south of Italy, for instance, a parmesan cheese or a pork rind would sometimes be cooked in the soup to add flavour, then discarded before serving. Minestrones made in Liguria (the area around Genoa) are simmered longer until the ingredients start to dissolve and break down into a mixture of very small, indistinct pieces. The version that has become popularized in North American is the Milanese version, where the vegetables are cooked until soft but not mooshy, and everything in the soup is still discernible as individual elements.
In some versions, rice will replace the pasta (rice has a centuries-old place in Italian cooking, after all.) This is more common in the rice-growing regions of Northern Italy. The grain farro might also be used instead. In Tuscany, it may be neither rice nor pasta nor a grain, but instead a piece of bread put in the bowl and with the soup served on top of it.
The vegetables used will change based on what season it is and what is available. Winter versions are heartier.
Minestrone is sometimes served hot, sometimes room temperature. Sometimes it is also served with a splash of olive oil.
Genovese Minestrone (aka Minestrone Genovese or Minestrone con pesto alla Genove)
Simmered until the ingredients start to dissolve and break down into a mixture of very small, indistinct pieces. The pasta used is often “Scucuzun.” A few tablespoons of pesto made without nuts is stirred in at the last minute before serving.
Minestrone alla Contadina
Tuscan version. The vegetables are often cannellini beans, kale and Savoy cabbage. Pieces of stale bread are put into bowls, the soup is poured over it to serve.
Another Tuscan version. Leftover “Minestrone all Contadina” is poured into another pot in which bread has been placed at the bottom. It’s covered and let stand overnight in the fridge. The next day, it is heated then served. “Ribollita” means reboiled.
Uses only green vegetables.
Minestrone Senza Carne
Made with no meat or meat broth.
Uses young vegetables available in the springtime.
To make it vegetarian, use water or a vegetable-based stock instead of meat stock and to take it further and make it vegan, either leave off the cheese entirely or use a tofu cheese.
Minestrone is pronounced “min es strohn ay.” It means “big soup”. “Minestra” means soup; adding -“one” to the end of it adds the meaning of “large.”