Mmmm… Minestrone

In August of 2009 I was reading my Twitter account, and one of the people I “follow”, Kelownagurl, posted that she was making some minestrone soup.  Now, if you are on Twitter or follow me on Twitter, you will know that I use it for training motivation, London information, random bits of funny insights to bring a smile to my face, and FOOD.  Yes, twitter is great for putting you in touch with folks that love food.  Food blogs, food photos, food reviews, recipes, you name it.

So Kelownagurl posted that she was making minestrone soup.  Minestrone soup is one of my favourites, and as with many of my recipe favourites, mine starts with the basics from Cook’s Illustrated.  I have been waiting for cooler months to make it again, and did so a few weekends ago.  This recipe makes a lot, so I have extra for lunch during the week, or to freeze for emergency food when really busy. 

Some minestrone soups have pasta added.  If you want to do that with this recipe, cook the pasta separately and add into each individual bowls (so that you don’t spoil the leftovers).

The key to this Minestrone is the use of leftover parmesan rinds.  I never used to save this part of the cheese, but now freeze the rinds when I am finished with the cheese so I have some always to hand.  It is a great way to use all the bit of the fabulous food we eat – and adds great flavour to the soup.  I freeze mine in a freezer ziplock bag, which keeps them well.  I do not worry about how long my rinds are in the freezer.



2 small leeks (or 1 large), white and light green parts sliced thin crosswise (about 3/4 cup) and washed thoroughly
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into small dice (about 3/4 cup)
2 small onions, peeled and cut into small dice (about 3/4 cup)
2 medium ribs celery, trimmed and cut into small dice (about 3/4 cup)
1 medium baking potato, peeled and cut into medium dice (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 medium zucchini (courgettes), trimmed and cut into medium dice (about 1 1/4 cups)
3 cups stemmed spinach leaves, cut into thin strips
1 large can or two small cans (28 ounces) of tomatoes, diced (or if using whole, drain, chop and add)
8 cups water
1 Parmesan cheese rind, about 5 x 2 inches
Table salt
1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup basil pesto or fresh rosemary pesto
Ground black pepper

Fresh rosemary pesto:  1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary mixed with 1 teaspoon minced garlic and 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil – I used a hand blender to chop mine up and prefer rosemary pesto to basil pesto, to be honest.

[Update 2013: I’m now at peace with basil pesto – I found that for me to actually like it, I have to eliminate the garlic, and I add some grated parmesan. It is super easy to make – big handful of fresh basil leaves, about a tablespoon or two of good olive oil, blend up, stir through parmesan. Delicious!]

All my ingredients, ready to make soup!


1. Bring vegetables, tomatoes, water, cheese rind, and 1 teaspoon salt to boil in a soup kettle or pot. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender but still hold their shape, about 1 hour. (Soup can be refrigerated in airtight container for 3 days or frozen for 1 month. If you freeze the soup, do so before the next stages of the recipe – cannellini beans don’t freeze well, never freeze pasta in soup or you’ll wind up with a glue-like mess when you defrost)

2. Add beans and cook just until heated through, about 5 minutes. Remove pot from heat. Remove and discard cheese rind. Stir in pesto (or rosemary-garlic mixture).  Adjust seasonings, adding pepper and more salt, if necessary. Ladle soup into bowls and serve immediately.

Note: I stir the pesto into each individual bowl as not everyone likes the same amount.  You can also leave it on the table, with salt and pepper, so that everyone can season to their taste.  My husband also likes me to leave parmesan out as well to add to the soup.  I serve it with nice, crusty bread.  See my comment above about adding pasta – add it to the serving bowls and not in the main soup, as pasta absorbs the liquid and makes it hard to store this soup / freeze leftovers.

I also made baguettes to serve with the soup… Delish!

[2013 Update: We are now gluten free at home, and exploring gluten free bread recipes – any suggestions, please send them my way!]


The thing I like best about this recipe are the suggestions that Cook’s Illustrated gave for “customising” it.  This enables me to make it more seasonal, and also to cook for the tastes of those eating it (for example, my husband hates zucchini so I tend to substitute it out).  Here are their basic tips:

You can change out the spinach leaves for another green leaf like kale or chard.  Kale is a stronger taste so reduce the quantity if you use kale.

The potatoes can be substituted.  Cauliflower is a great non starch substitute.  I also like to use pumpkin for the potatoes, especially if using kale – it is a nice sweet addition.  Turnips can also be used.

Peas can be added, which is more “French” in style.  Use these in place of zucchini (courgettes).

The only real no-no for a substitution is broccoli.  The taste of broccoli is too strong to use in this subtle soup.  But pretty much anything else works.

2013 Update: I made this soup in January 2013 using turnips, cauliflower, and spinach, and serving without cannellini (I forgot) – it was so delicious I had to update and recirculate this post!

PS… To follow Kelownagurl’s blog, click here.  She podcasts too.

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