Minestrone soup is one of the first dishes I learned to cook as a child and it remains one of my favourites. Then, bacon rinds and trimmings provided the flavouring. Now I make my stock with a knuckle bone from a Parma ham. The soup is even better the next day and almost makes a meal in itself, so full of beans and other vegetables that a spoon will practically stand up in it; use haricot, cannellini or borlotti beans. If you wish, small soup pasta or broken-up spaghetti can be added. Alternatively, use just vegetable stock and make an entirely vegetarian version, or cook a ham bone with the vegetables if you prefer.
Make at least twice the amount you need, for the reheated version makes a very acceptable Tuscan-style ribollito. The best way to eat it is to put a piece of good, chunky, chewy bread, either a day or so old or lightly toasted, in the bottom of the soup bowl, anoint it liberally with extra-virgin olive oil, and pour the re-boiled soup over the sops.
Place the soaked beans in a heavy saucepan with enough stock to cover them, and simmer while you prepare the rest of the vegetables.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Excluding the cabbage, beans and courgettes, peel and finely chop all the vegetables, removing the seeds from the tomatoes. Turn these in the olive oil, and when lightly browned add them to the pot of beans, together with the rest of the stock. Bring to the boil, cover with the lid and cook in a low oven, 170°C/325°F/ gas mark 3 for 2 to 3 hours, or on the hob on low heat.
About half an hour before the end, prepare then add the cabbage, beans and courgettes.
Season to taste, and allow to cook until the last 3 vegetables are just done.
To serve, stir in a little pesto, or a little more olive oil.
© 2000 Frances Bissell. All rights reserved.