45 to 60 minutes
I’ve probably made minestrone once a month for years, never the same way twice. Tomatoes of some kind are the only constant; everything else is up for grabs. To facilitate this use-what-you-have approach, the ingredient list groups the vegetable options as “hard” and “soft” and gives a few suggestions, but soon you’ll be making this without a recipe. Trust me.
1 / 4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot or parsnip, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
Salt and pepper
About 1 1 / 2 cups chopped hard vegetables like potatoes, winter squash, rutabaga, or turnips, peeled if necessary, in smaller-than-1/2-inch dice
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 cup chopped tomatoes (canned are fine; include the juice)
6 cups vegetable stock or water
About 1 1 / 2 cups soft vegetables like green beans, cut into pieces; drained cooked, canned, or frozen shell beans; diced zucchini or summer squash; or chopped fennel bulb
1/2 pound dark, leafy greens like kale, collards, or spinach, stems cut out and discarded, leaves cut across into thin ribbons
1. Put the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onion, carrot, and celery. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to soften, 3 to 5 minutes.
2. Add the hard vegetables and garlic and cook, stirring, for a minute or 2 before adding the tomatoes. Raise the heat so the mixture sizzles. Continue stirring until the tomatoes darken and start to become dry. Add the stock, bring to a boil, and adjust the heat so the soup bubbles gently. Cook, stirring every now and then, until the hard vegetables are fairly soft and the tomatoes have broken up, 10 to 15 minutes. (You can make the soup in advance up to this point. Cool, cover, refrigerate for up to 2 days, or freeze, and reheat before proceeding.)
3. Add the soft vegetables and adjust the heat so the mix- ture bubbles enthusiastically. Let them have a 2-minute head start before adding the greens. Cook, still stirring occasionally until all the vegetables are quite tender, a final 10 to 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve, passing some olive oil at the table for drizzling.
Stir in 1/2 cup or more of pesto before serving.
Pasta e Fagioli
Use whatever vegetables you like in the main recipe but reduce the quantities by about half. In Step 3 add a total of 2 cups drained cooked, canned, or frozen beans — kidney, white, borlotti, chickpeas, cannellini, lima, or a mixture — with the soft vegetables. When it’s time for the greens to go in the pot, add no more than 1 cup small pasta (like tubetti) or larger pasta broken into bits along with another cup water. Continue to cook and stir as in the main recipe until the vegetables are soft and the pasta is tender but not mushy, 5 to 10 minutes.
Use what you have on hand, and to taste: For example, in Step 1, add the leaves from a fresh sprig of oregano, marjoram, or rosemary. In Step 3, finish with a few more leaves or 1 cup chopped fresh basil.
If you have the hard bits from a piece of Parmesan in the refrigerator or freezer, cut it — rind and all — into small pieces and add it along with the first batch of vegetables in Step 2. It’ll become chewy during cooking and is not only edible but delicious. Then grate some more Parmesan cheese for serving.