Last week's Feast featured a recipe for summer minestrone, which made me think just how authentic Felicity Cloake's version is. I remember she totally butchered the Russian salad recipe earlier this year. As I have a couple of hundred cook books, I thought I'd do a quick research from the Italian authors. There are obviously many regional variations, so it's not easy to say which recipe could be called a classic one.
From consulting several authors, you can come to a conclusion that olive oil, onion, celery, potato, carrot, beans and courgettes are the must-have ingredients, which appear in all recipes. But then the variations sweep you away.
Julia del Croce, who is described as a Doyenne of Italian food and cookery, has a recipe for Classic Minestrone in her book Italian Comfort Food (Kyle Cathie Ltd, 2010 edition). Julia says the secret to the success of this colourful, meatless vegetable soup is the use of fresh vegetables, high quality olive oil and authentic Parmesan.
She uses a battuto, a chopped mixture of garlic, rosemary and parsley, adds a butternut squash, cauliflower florets, pasta and freshly grated Parmesan.
Biba Caggiano, author and cooking show host, comes from Emilia-Romagna. Her recipes reflect the vibrant food of her childhood. In her book Biba's Taste of Italy (William Morrow, 2001) she introduces a recipe for Minestrone Modenese which includes chicken broth, pancetta, prosciutto, tomatoes, mushrooms, Savoy cabbage and asparagus in addition to the staple ingredients. That recipe requires simmering soup for over two and a half hours.
Giorgio Locatelli (whose smouldering looks make my heart skip a beat) offers two recipes for minestrone in his book Made In Italy Food and Stories (Fourth Estate London. In his opinion, this is the best soup in the world, and who are we to argue with him.
One is a Minestrone Verde with Pesto. Giorgio says he likes to add rice to minestrone, just the way his Nonna did. Here he adds a leek, Swiss chard, courgette flowers if possible, cavolo nero, fresh peas, broad beans, spinach, chickpeas and pesto.
The second recipe is a non-vegetarian version - Minestrone with Langoustines, where you start with cooking a langoustine consommé.
Trendy Chiappa Sisters offer the version of minestrone that they eat regularly in the Chiappa household. I have a copy of Simply Italian (it's even a signed copy!) in front of me - their version of Hearty Vegetable Soup is a more simplified one in comparison to the recipes mentioned above and has a sweet potato, leek, fresh tomatoes and tomato puree, and with pastina added near the end of cooking.
And finally, let's consult Saveur Cooks Authentic Italian (Chronicle Books, 2001) - I bought this book when we lived in the States, and I often bought Saveur magazine. They publish a recipe for Minestrone Genovese, which includes porcini mushrooms, Swiss chard, spinach. eggplants. tubetti pasta and white beans plus pesto among the other ingredients.
I didn't consult the British chefts like Jamie, Nigel or Nigella, not because I don't trust their opinions, but because I have to stop somewhere.
Basically, it's up to you, which vegetables you want to add to the main five-six. Looks like there is no definitive, undisputed recipe.
And here is the one I made yesterday. It was a rather cold, miserable rainy kind of day, when I crave soup.
1 onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot
2 sticks of celery
1 clove of garlic
3tbsp olive oil (I used Filippo Berio)
1/2tsp Knorr rosemary and onion seasoning (optional)
2 medium potatoes
1 pot of Knorr vegetable stock
1 tin of borlotti beans, rinsed
3tbsp risotto rice (Gallo is my choice)
80g of fresh peas
grated cheese - I used grated mozzarella (vegetarian), but Parmesan would be more authentic
Peel and finely chop an onion, carrot and two celery sticks. This will be the base of your soffritto.
Heat the oil in a big frying pan, cook onion for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, then add the carrot and celery, keep frying until softened. If using the rosemary and onion seasoning, add it at this stage with a finely chopped clove of garlic.
In the meantime, prep the remaining veg - peel and chop potatoes, slice a courgette.
Add the fried soffrito mix to a big pan, add the potatoes, beans and risotto rice, pour about a litre and a half of water and add a stock cube (or 1tbsp powdered stock). Cook for five minutes, then add the courgette and peas, and cook until all the veg is soft.
In the last minute or so add a handful of chopped parsley and basil. If the soup is too thick, add more water to the pan.
This is a pretty straightforward easy recipe. You don't need to spend two and a half hours, simmering it.
Serve hot, with grated parmesan or mozzarella on top.
This is a recipe, very similar to the minestrone my mother-in-law cooks.
If you don't have time to chop and cook soffritto, Waitrose and some other supermarkets make it easy - you can buy a pack of pre-chopped soffritto mix.
In this recipe I used a bit of Knorr rosemary & onion seasoning, which was one of the products from the last Degustabox. This handy seasoning is great for BBQs and roasted vegetables. Rosemary goes so well with a wide variety of vegetables.
You can use a bit of finely chopped fresh rosemary, if you prefer. My mother-in-law has a selection of herbs growing in pots in the balcony outside her kitchen, so she just takes a few steps from the stove and picks some basil, sage, rosemary or thyme, when she needs it in cooking.
If you cook minestrone, what are you must-have ingredients? Do you like to improvise, depending on what vegetables and herbs you have?