Tastes like a big bowl of summer

The big soup -- it's minestrone. That's literally what it means. And it's not just the big soup, but the big summer soup, because of all the fantastic vegetables you can get at the markets or from your own garden right now: juicy tomatoes, sweet corn, yellow wax beans, green beans, summer squash, fresh lima beans.

Put them all together with a delicious broth -- maybe some of those peak-season tomatoes grated into a lusty chicken broth -- and you have minestrone, robust vegetable soup, like a big bowl of summer. There are a zillion (OK, that might be an exaggeration, but not much of one) variations, such as the one named "The Virtues" from the Abruzzo, so called because it conveys the story of seven virtuous women who each added something to the soup (some lovely marjoram or favas or a little diced prosciutto). Then there's the kind the Ligurians make with basil sauce stirred in. And what about a minestrone alla Pugliese -- made with turnip flowers, a pinch of chile powder, traditional Puglian pasta like cavatelli or tortiglioni and freshly grated Romano cheese.

The point is, minestrone lends itself to spontaneity and adaptation -- just the approach that makes sense during the season's cavalcade of vegetables and herbs.

A bright green swirl of parsley pistou -- a blend of lively parsley, lots of garlic, good olive oil, and salt and pepper -- dresses a minestrone of summer squash and tomatoes. The light broth (summer versions of minestrone tend to have lighter broths) is vegetarian. Sautéed onions and fennel and garlic make an amazing flavor base. And the rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano (never again throw those rinds away) dropped into the broth while it's simmering gives the soup substance, infusing it with a salty, nutty flavor. Add cooked tubetti, small tubes of pasta, just before serving.

Or add the delicious touch of your own fresh pasta to a minestrone made with that chicken broth enriched by grated tomatoes (cut tomatoes in half and rub the flesh against the large holes of a box grater, flattening them with the palm of your hand as you go; stop when you've reached the peel). Add yellow wax beans, corn cut from the cob, zucchini and fresh lima beans. Cut the just-made noodles into small pieces and add to the broth during the last minutes of cooking; the homemade pasta is tender and delicate and light. Finally, a Tuscan-influenced minestrone combines cannellini beans along with small potatoes, rosemary, zucchini and tomato. Garnish it with strips of basil, fresh from the garden.

Fresh basil, tender pasta, a not-too-heavy broth -- these details make for summer minestrone -- light touches for big soup.


Tuscan minestrone

Total time: About 1 hour, 30 minutes, plus soaking time for the beans

Servings: 6 to 8

Note: From Donna Deane

8 ounces dried cannellini beans (about 11/4 cups)

1 tablespoon olive oil plus olive oil for drizzling

1/2 cup finely chopped onions

1/2 cup finely chopped carrots

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

1 clove garlic, minced

8 cups chicken broth

1 (4-inch) sprig rosemary

About 12 fingerling potatoes or small Yukon gold potatoes, 3/4-inch diced (about 1 cup)

2 to 3 small zucchini, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 3 cups)

1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 1 cup)

Salt, pepper

3 tablespoons finely sliced basil strips

1. Bring 1 quart of water to boil. Place the cannellini beans in a medium bowl, and pour the boiling water over them to cover. Allow the beans to stand one hour, then drain. Set aside.

2. In a large saucepot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-low heat. Stir in the onions, carrots and celery and sauté until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and sauté just until fragrant but not browned, about 30 seconds.

3. Stir in the chicken broth along with the drained beans and the sprig of rosemary. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 45 minutes.

4. Stir in the potatoes, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the zucchini and tomato, cover and continue to simmer 10 more minutes.

5. Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle each serving with fresh basil and a light drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately.

Each serving: 160 calories; 10 grams protein; 25 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams fiber; 2 grams fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 409 mg. sodium.


Summer minestrone with parsley pistou

Total time: About 1 hour, 40 minutes

Servings: 6 to 8

Note: From test kitchen director Donna Deane. Save the rinds from Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to add to the soup pot. It gives added flavor and substance to this vegetarian soup.

3/4 cup olive oil, divided

1 medium onion, diced into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)

1 bulb fennel, cored and cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips

6 cloves minced garlic, divided

2 large tomatoes, cored, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 (2-inch) pieces Parmigiano-Reggiano rind

21/4 teaspoons salt, divided

3/8 teaspoon white pepper, divided

2 cups parsley leaves

1 yellow squash, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (about 2 cups)

1 zucchini squash, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

2 cups green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/2 cup tube pasta (such as tubetti), cooked according to package directions, about 8 minutes and drained

1. Heat one-fourth cup of the oil in a large pot over high heat until hot. Add the onion, and reduce the heat to medium. Sauté the onion until it begins to brown around the edges, about 5 minutes. Stir in the fennel and continue to sauté until the fennel is tender and just begins to brown around the edges, about 5 more minutes. Stir in 2 cloves of the minced garlic during the last minute of sautéing.

2. Add the tomatoes and 6 cups water. Stir in the cheese rinds, 2 teaspoons of the salt and one-fourth teaspoon pepper. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and then cover and simmer 20 minutes.

3. While the soup is cooking, prepare the pistou. Purée the parsley and the remaining minced garlic cloves in a food processor. Add the remaining one-fourth teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. With the motor running, drizzle in the remaining olive oil until emulsified. Set aside.

4. Add the squash and the beans to the pot, and continue to simmer until the beans are just cooked, about 10 minutes. Remove the Parmesan rinds from the soup, and stir in the cooked pasta. Ladle the soup into large flat bowls. Spoon a dollop of pistou onto each serving. Serve immediately.

Each serving: 251 calories; 3 grams protein; 15 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 21 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 685 mg. sodium.


Late summer minestrone

Total time: About 1 hour, 45 minutes, plus resting time for the pasta dough

Servings: 6 to 8

Note: From Donna Deane. This recipe calls for a pasta machine to make the noodles. You can substitute purchased fresh fettucine. If desired, serve with toasted slices of baguette.

1/2 cup flour plus extra for kneading

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 egg, beaten

2 cups onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

9 cups good-quality chicken broth

2 to 3 large tomatoes, grated (about 13/4 cup grated)

1/2 pound yellow wax beans, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)

2 ears corn, kernels removed (about 2 cups corn)

2 cups lima beans

3 zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

1. To make the pasta dough, place one-half cup flour and the salt into a large bowl or on a clean work surface and stir to blend the ingredients together. Make a well in the center of the flour and slowly pour in the beaten egg. Use a fork to stir the flour into the egg, then, as the dough forms, use your hands to bring it together into a ball.

2. Knead the pasta dough for several minutes on a floured work surface until the dough becomes soft and smooth. Form it into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap; allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes. 3. Divide the pasta dough in half, and roll out the first half into a long strip about one-fourth-inch thick. Repeat with the second half. Using the widest setting on a pasta machine, put the first piece of dough through once to form a long rectangle. Fold the short ends of the rectangle into the center and put the dough through twice more on that setting. Repeat with the second half. Lower the setting a notch and run both pieces through. Continue running the dough through the machine, each time at a lower setting, until each piece is as thin as a standard sheet of pasta, about one-sixteenth inch.

4. Change the attachment on the pasta machine to the fettuccine cutter and run each sheet of pasta through. Place the noodles on a clean, lightly-floured wooden board. Cut the noodles on the diagonal into 11/4-inch pieces. Let the cut pasta rest uncovered on the board while preparing the soup.

5. Sauté the onion in the olive oil in a large pot until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and sauté an additional minute or just until fragrant, but not browned.

6. Stir in the chicken broth and the grated tomato and bring the soup to a boil. Add the yellow beans, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Add the lima beans and corn and continue to simmer 5 more minutes. Add the zucchini and simmer another 10 minutes, just until the vegetables are tender.

7. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir the pasta into the simmering broth. Cover and simmer about 2 minutes until the pasta is cooked through. Stir in the fresh oregano. Ladle into heated soup bowls.

Each serving: 252 calories; 11 grams protein; 35 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams fiber; 9 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 26 mg. cholesterol; 843 mg. sodium.

PHOTO: CRISP-TENDER: Summer minestrones call for a little creativity and lot of spontaneity -- and plenty of seasonal vegetables and herbs. Lighter broths allow the fresh textures and flavors of the ingredients to come through. ID NUMBER: 20070808jltdj0nc CREDIT: Eric Boyd Los Angeles Times PHOTO: ID NUMBER: 20070808jltdpgnc CREDIT: ERIC BOYD Los Angeles Times PHOTO: ID NUMBER: 20070808jltdpunc CREDIT: