This classic Italian soup is an old friend of mine. I fell in love with it when I encountered it in what is, to this day, probably still my favourite book on Italian food: Jamie's Italy. There are no strict rules to this soup, but a proper minestrone should be seasonal; just go to the garden and pick whatever you have. If you don't have a garden, just choose what you want from the shop, but try to avoid using courgettes in the middle of winter, for example, or root vegetables like celeriac in the middle of summer.
The quality of the stock is important. Ideally, get a knuckle of gammon or ham and cook that first to obtain a rich ham stock. This is perfect for the minestrone. If this isn't possible, use a good quality rich chicken stock instead. Usually there will be some kind of beans in a minestrone, typically haricot or cannellini, but I opted for black beans because I think they're the best. You'll need to soak them in cold water for several hours beforehand, but you can substitute them for cooked ones (from a tin) if you wish.
- 50 g dried black beans (or 100 g cooked beans)
- 100 g smoked bacon lardons, diced
- 1 large white onion
- 1 large carrot
- 150 g swede (neep)
- ½ red onion
- 2 large cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 stick celery, chopped
- 6 florets cauliflower
- 1 litre ham stock
- 1 400 g tin chopped tomates
- 3 tbsp tomato puree
- 1 small bunch thyme, leaves picked
- 3 leaves cavolo nero, roughly chopped
- 1 large handful baby spinach
- 100 pasta, mixed or broken pieces
- olive oil, for cooking
- some basil leaves, for garnish
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Place the beans in a bowl and cover with cold water. Leave for 6 to 8 hours (or overnight) then drain.
Place the drained beans in a saucepan and cover with water and a generous pinch of salt. Bring to the boil and simmer until they are tender; probably about 30 to 40 minutes.
Now prepare the vegetables. Cut the onion, carrot and swede into approx. 1 cm dice, and cut the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces. Set all the vegetables aside. Add 2 - 3 tablespoons of olive oil to a large saucepan or casserole and place it over a medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, in about 30 seconds, add the bacon lardons. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelised. Now add the white onion, celery garlic and thyme along with a generous pinch of salt. Stir once, then turn the heat to medium and sweat gently for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the carrot and swede and continue to cook in the same way for 5 minutes.
Add the beans, chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and 750 ml of stock. Bring to the boil, then add the cauliflower, cavolo nero and pasta. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook like this for 15 - 20 minutes until the pasta and all the vegetables are cooked. Add more stock if it becomes too thick. Add the baby spinach and stir until wilted. Ladle into bowls and garnish with the basil leaves.