Soupapalooza! Week Two with a Hearty (and Heartwarming) Minestrone

One of my earliest food memories is of eating soup with my dad. Both of my parents were medical residents and although I don't remember feeling juggled, I know that caring for me with two punishing call schedules was an elaborate dance. It must have been on those bleary-eyed nights when my mom was on call, that my dad would pull out the Campbell's Alphabet Soup. He would serve it in one big bowl and float big chunks of Meunster cheese in it which would melt into long gooey strings. Together we would eat, our heads touching, our spoons crossing - giggling, looking for letters and trying to get that cheese. 

For week two of Soupapalooza, I decided to make minestrone soup, which is really just a hearty vegetable soup - a staple of rustic Italian cooking. Perhaps I could recreate that alphabet soup of my youth and tempt my kids with the story, the noodles and maybe even a melty chunk of cheese. I couldn't find pasta letters, but I found little shells (conchiglie) that would do the trick.

Unfortunately, when I was making this soup, I got so excited while chopping the cabbage (which I love) and the kale (which I really love), that I completely forgot all about my children and the conchiglie. I ended up using double the cabbage and kale called for by the recipe because it was sitting on my cutting board and it certainly wasn't going to hurt the soup. The package of shells never even made it out of my pantry. 

Despite (or maybe because of) losing my wits over my majestic pile of cruciferous veggies, the soup was delicious. And better yet, for this round, anyway, it ended up being a soup just for me. It's a soup you can chew - the soft, buttery white beans mingle with the cabbage and the kale, so that every bite is a mix a soft and chewy, suspended in a rich broth studded with little bits of salty bacon. I like to finish this soup with a squeeze of lemon to brighten the flavors. Typically, a minestrone soup is served with shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano, but just between you and me, I prefer a healthy chunk of Meunster cheese.


Minestrone Soup - adapted from Gourmet

1/2 pound (about 1 1/4 cups) dried white beans such as Great Northern, picked over and rinsed. (You can also use drained, rinsed canned beans in a pinch, but the dried have a better texture)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 pound pancetta or bacon, chopped

1/3 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (if using dried spices, always use way less)

1 large bay leaf

1 onion chopped

1 large carrot diced

1 rib of celery diced

3 garlic cloves chopped fine

2 zucchini diced

1/4 pound green beans cut into 1/2 inch pieces

4 cups shredded green cabbage (preferably Savoy)

1/2 pound kale, rinsed, drained, stems discarded and leaves chopped (about 6 cups)

one 28 ounce can tomatoes, chopped (I always use San Marzano and I throw the juice into the soup rather than drain)

4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth

In a large bowl let the white beans soak in enough water to cover them by 2 inches overnight or quick-soak them as follows: In a saucepan combine them with enough water to cover them by 2 inches, and simmer them, uncovered, adding more water if necessary to keep them barely covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until they are tender. Add the salt and simmer the white beans for 5 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and let the white beans stand, uncovered.

In a heavy pot cook the pancetta or bacon in the oil over moderate heat, stirring, until it is crisp and pale golden, add the onion, and cook the mixture, stirring, until the onion is softened. Add the carrots, the celery, and the garlic and cook the mixture, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add the zucchini, the green beans and cook the mixture, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add the cabbage and the kale and cook the mixture, stirring, until the cabbage is wilted. Add the tomatoes, the broth, and the herbs and simmer the soup, covered, for 1 hour.

Drain the white beans, reserving the liquid. In a blender or food processor purée half of them with 1 cup of the reserved liquid, and stir the purée and the remaining white beans into the soup. (Note, I skipped this step and just used the white beans whole.) Simmer the soup, uncovered, for 15 minutes, thin it if desired with some of the remaining reserve liquid, and season it with salt and pepper. The soup may be made 3 days in advance and kept covered and chilled. Reheat the soup, thinning it with water or broth as desired. Finish with a squeeze of lemon and shavings of parmesan. This soup also freezes well.


Gabriela Lambert is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good and Tasty. You can also read more of her writing on her blog Her last post for SGT was: Soupapalooza, Squash soup with ginger and coconut.