If done well there are few soups which can compete with the minestrone in the flavour stakes. Due its humble background, minestrone is also a champion of versatility as historically its impoverished patrons would cook up whatever ingredients were in season. But it’s minestone’s lowly background which also leads many a cook to overlook this most of flavoursome of meals. So I’m going to share a recipe which I think does the humble minestrone justice, putting it back upon its liquid nectar throne…. or least hoisting it up a few rungs.
The key to a good minestrone, as with any soup, is building up a solid base of complementary flavours. This is achieved in this minestrone recipe by placing the mushroom centre stage, and dutifully supporting it with a cast of piquant packed condiments. The mushrooms and dried porcini add a luxurious edge, raising the usual root vegetable suspects to a higher plain of ‘mmm’. Whatever you do though, avoid the plain old white button mushroom. Instead go for chestnut, or if you’re walking with a skip in your step maybe even oyster or shiitake. As for the rest of vegetables use what’s cheap, filling, and readily available whilst making sure you add a little colour – which in this recipe’s case the carrot, tomato and cabbage offer.
Ingredients (to feed four)
Chestnut mushrooms (two-three handfulls) , large carrot, onion, garlic (two cloves), stick of celery, medium sized potato, savoy cabbage (third – half a cabbage), plum tomatoes (three), butter beans (tin)
Dried porcini (two tablespoons), umami paste (two teaspoons), Worcestershire sauce (two table spoons), chicken stock, salt and pepper (and plenty of it), fresh parsley
Dice the vegetables finely if you want to add a little finesse to your soup, and when it comes to cooking you shouldn’t need to boil the ingredients to a pulp. Instead lightly fry the onion, celery, and carrot until the onion takes on a translucency. Then add the garlic and mushrooms and sauté for a minute or two. Finally pour in the water, stock, and other vegetables and simmer until the veg are somewhere between al dente and tender.
Whilst the soup simmers you can have a a little ‘cheffy’ time pondering your seasoning, in the full knowledge that your minestrone will make or break depending on how much flavour you manage to cram in. Here are some tips I use to add extra flavour, but if you don’t have some of these ingredients to hand simply substitute them for something else which compliments:
- I’ve taken to using umami paste recently, which is crammed full of savoury goodies such as anchovies and sun dried tomatoes. Add the paste half way through frying the onion.
- Another key element is stock. Use fresh chicken or vegetable stock if you have it to hand, but don’t worry if not. Instead substitute with a stock cube, but make sure it’s a good quality one. My personal favourite are ‘Kalo’ chicken stock cubes which are made without artificial nasties giving them a more natural flavour than most other brands I’ve tried. And don’t be afraid to use two cubes, remember flavour is king!
- To help heighten the mushrooms I used dried chestnut mushroom porcini for this recipe, grown by Cynan Jones of the Mushroom Garden (based in Snowdonia, north Wales).
- As with many other soups, I like to finish off the minestrone’s seasoning with a liberal dose of Worcestershire Sauce and pepper to give gentle background heat and subtle spice.
- Finally, add parsley to finish for a herby zing and colour.