Not to put too fine a point on it I despise soupe au pistou and love minestrone. The Provençal dish is inferior in every way to the Italian and misses the point of the basil sauce completely by cooking it into the soup, when it should be stirred in at the table at the last moment to provide a unique burst of flavour.
There is no absolute recipe for minestrone, but it should contain beans and I like to include a soup pasta like ditali (slightly larger than the tiny and more commonly available ditalini, which I think is just too small as I like the bits of pasta to be about the same size as the beans). Many Italians insist that it is cooked using a Parma ham bone or ham scraps, but there is no reason why the minestrone should not be entirely vegetarian. Most recipes include tomato, though I prefer to leave it out Otherwise it can be made from a variable mixture of vegetables which may include carrots, potatoes, leeks, French beans, spinach, peas, cauliflower, onions, broccoli and courgettes.
Prepare the dried beans, if using: soak them overnight in cold water. Then drain and put them in a large pan of water. Bring to the boil and boil vigorously for 10 minutes. Drain, cover with fresh water and bring back to the boil. Simmer for about 1½ hours. Do not salt the water at any stage. (If you do not have time, canned borlotti beans make an acceptable substitute, though they must be well rinsed in cold running water before being put into the soup.)
Prepare the vegetables: cut the courgettes, onions and French beans into 5mm / ¼in pieces, the carrots into thin rounds, the celery and garlic into thin cross-cut slices, and separate the florets from the broccoli stalks, cutting the stalks into small dice. Blanch the French beans and broccoli florets in boiling salted water for 3 minutes and refresh in cold water.
Cook the soup pasta in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water for about 5 minutes. Drain, refresh in cold water and drain again. Put into a bowl, add
Put the remaining olive oil into a large saucepan and sweat the carrots, onion, garlic and celery in it for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Reserving the broccoli and French beans, add all the other vegetables together with the ham bone or scraps, if using. Barely cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer until the vegetables are just tender.
Add the drained borlotti beans, taste then season with salt and pepper and cook for a further 5 minutes. Stir in the broccoli florets and French beans and simmer for a final 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat, leave to cool and then refrigerate or store in a cool place overnight. This is essential to allow the flavours to develop and amalgamate.
When ready to serve, reheat gently. Stir in the half-cooked pasta and simmer for a final 5 minutes, or until the pasta is tender.
Serve in the largest warmed soup bowls have, passing the pesto separately for people to help themselves.
© 1993 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.