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. Saut?ed 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.