My favorite soup of all time is my late grandmother's minestrone soup. Studded with everything from cabbage to white beans to potatoes to little pasta, it is a whole meal in a bowl. The best part is always topping it with a sprinkling of super sharp, aged Italian cheese- either pecorino romano or Parmigiano-reggiano. I could eat it anytime of year. It is light enough for summer but hearty enough for winter. It just makes me think of all of those visits to her house as a kid. The only problem is that it requires a whole grocery cart full of ingredients and half of your day. There is a reason it is so delicious and so coveted by my family. When you order a minestrone soup in a restaurant, however, it is always a bit of a surprise what you get. The only somewhat predictable things you can expect when your bowl arrives to the table are a tomato-based broth, some vegetables, beans, and pasta in a tomato-based broth. All the little details are up to the chef. At home, minestrone soup's versatility is what makes it so great for using up odds and ends of vegetables you have left in the fridge. You throw in some beans, some pasta, and some tomatoes and you have got yourself a minestrone.
This is a pretty low maintenance soup. In my version here, I love how the zucchini and macaroni noodles soak up the broth as it cooks. I used Swiss chard, sauteing the stems in with the onions, but any greens could do. The little something that gives this soup some real body and deliciousness is the finely grated cheese thrown in just before serving. In most soups that I am simmering for a long time, I like to throw in a rind from a hunk of Parmiggiano-reggiano, a trick I learned from my Italian host mother several years ago, but I wanted this to be quick. And instead of just sprinkling some on each bowl at the end like my Grandma would do, I mix it all together to create a rich broth flavor in no time. Sprinkle some fresh basil to give it a bright, fresh note at the end, and you have dinner.
My only cautionary note here is that the pasta will continue to soak up all of the broth as it is sits, so be sure to check the doneness of the noodles often to avoid overcooking them. This is a fabulous soup to make ahead of time and in large batches to freeze for those nights when a big bowl of soup is the only thing that will do.
Late Summer Minestrone
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
4 cups water or vegetable broth
2/3 cup whole wheat elbow macaroni
1 bunch of Swiss chard, washed, stems finely chopped and leaves cut in 1/2-inch wide strips
2 medium zucchini, washed and diced into 1-centimeter cubes
1 cup cooked and drained chickpeas (canned are fine although I used ones I had previously cooked and frozen)
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
1 large handful of basil, leaves cut in chiffonade
salt and pepper, to taste
In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and chard stems. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute about 8-10 minutes or until vegetables have softened and onions are translucent.
Add diced tomatoes and water to the pot. Bring to a boil and add pasta, chard, zucchini, and chickpeas. Stir to mix and allow to cook at low boil for 7-10 minutes or until vegetables are soft and pasta is al dente. Stir often during this time to ensure even cooking of the vegetables. Remove from heat. Pasta and vegetables will continue to cook a little more.
Add finely grated cheese to pot and stir until thoroughly combined, and broth slightly thickens and cheese has melted completely. Sprinkle soup with basil pieces. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with additional cheese and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil if desired. Enjoy! Serves 4-6.