How to make summer minestrone – recipe

Minestrone is, in the grand tradition of many of the best soups, almost infinitely adaptable, and reliably capable of stretching a little to feel like a feast. There is no definitive way to make it – it’s more of a concept than a recipe – but here is how I like to do it at this time of year. You, of course, should adjust it according to what’s good near you.

Prep 15 min
Cook 35 min
Serves 4

1 onion
2 carrots
2 sticks celery
3 tbsp olive oil
, plus extra to serve
Seasonal vegetables of your choice – for example, 1 courgette, a few asparagus stalks and/or runner beans, half a head of fennel, 1 handful fresh peas or broad beans, a couple of handfuls of spinach
4-6 new potatoes
2 garlic cloves
100g cooked and drained borlotti beans
(see step 7)
200g risotto rice (see step 7)
1½ litres chicken or vegetable stock, or water
Grated parmesan (or a vegetarian or vegan alternative), plus a few basil leaves, to serve

This is such a simple soup, so it’s important to spend a little bit of time on the base. Peel and finely chop the onion (any kind is fine, from spring to red or shallots, but adjust the cooking time accordingly). Peel and chop the carrots and celery into roughly 1cm dice, keeping them separate from the onion.

Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind when making minestrone, apart from not worrying too much about the details, is that, whatever you use, different vegetables cook at different speeds, so don’t add them all at once, and cut them into pieces of roughly the same size, so each addition cooks at the same rate.

Assuming you’re using the vegetables in my ingredients list, dice the courgette, and trim and roughly chop the asparagus or runner beans and fennel. Pod the peas or broad beans, if necessary, and rinse and roughly chop the spinach. Wash and cut the potatoes into halves or quarters, or into chunky dice. Set all these aside separately.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and cook the onion, stirring regularly to help it along, until soft but not coloured.

Add the carrots and celery, and continue to fry, stirring, until softened. In the meantime, prepare the other vegetables if you haven’t already done so, but keep an eye on the pan to make sure nothing catches and burns.

Peel and crush the garlic and add it to the pan. This is the season of wet or green garlic in this country, so use that, if you can find it, because it adds a much mellower flavour, but ordinary dry garlic will do, too. Cook, stirring, for another minute or so, until it begins to lose its raw smell.

Stir in the vegetables in the order in which they’ll take to cook, leaving out any leafy greens for now (if you like your asparagus, peas or beans crunchy, leave them out, too, at this stage, otherwise add them after the potatoes, courgette and fennel), and fry until slightly softened, remembering that they’ll be simmered in stock later on, so at this stage don’t need to be cooked right through.

Add the drained cooked beans (any variety will do: you can use drained tinned ones, or dry, soak and cook them yourself; later in the season, you can swap them for fresh beans) and the rice. Risotto rice feels apt here, but any sort will do, as will small pieces of pasta such as broken spaghetti, or even stale bread (though then you’re taking your soup into Tuscan ribollita territory).

Pour in the stock or water, and bring to a boil, adding cheese rinds or woody herbs to help flavour the soup, if you like. Turn down the heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally to stop it sticking to the pan, until the potatoes and rice are cooked. If you kept them back earlier, add the asparagus, peas, beans or spinach towards the end of this time.

Season the broth to taste, then divide the soup between bowls and top each portion with a generous drizzle of olive oil, a good grating of hard cheese and some torn basil leaves. (Note, if you make this ahead of time, you’ll find that the rice will swell and absorb much of the liquid, so it’s best to make it without the rice, then add it when you reheat it, or to loosen the soup with more stock.)

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