There is no absolute recipe for minestrone, but it should always contain beans and a soup pasta like ditalini. Many Italians insist that it is cooked with a Parma ham bone for the flavour, but there is no reason why minestrone should not be entirely vegetarian.
Drain the soaked beans, cover with fresh water and bring to the boil. Boil vigorously for 10 minutes, then drain. Cover with fresh water, bring back to the boil and simmer for about 1½ hours. Do not salt the water as this will toughen the skins of the beans.
Cook the soup pasta in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water until half done. Drain and reserve. Add
Prepare the vegetables: trim them, then cut them into 5-mm / ¼-inch chunks or rounds as appropriate. Separate the florets from the broccoli stalks, cutting the stalks into small dice.
Put the remaining olive oil in a large saucepan and sweat the onion, garlic, carrots and celery for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add a ham bone if liked and the remaining vegetables, except the broccoli and French beans. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer until the vegetables are just cooked.
Add the drained borlotti beans, taste then season with salt and pepper and cook for a further 5 minutes. Ideally, remove from the heat, leave to cool and then refrigerate overnight to allow the flavours to develop and amalgamate.
Reheat the soup gently, stirring in the half-cooked pasta, French beans and broccoli florets. Simmer for a final 5 minutes. Serve in large warmed bowls, stirring a tablespoon of pesto into each bowl at the table.
© 1998 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.