I've never confined minestrone to the colder months, but in winter it takes on such a nourishing and warming role. For me, winter minestrone is all about root vegetables, winter greens, dried beans and pasta and an intense broth with real depth of flavour. The parmesan rind is optional, but it adds intensity to the soup and really fills out the savoury profile - well worth trying.
125g small dried haricot or cannellini beans, soaked overnight (or use 250g drained tinned beans, but add them at the end of the cooking)
3 carrots, rough 3cm dice
3 parsnips, rough 3cm dice
3 white sweet potatoes, rough 3cm dice
2 tsp fennel seeds
extra virgin olive oil
salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
2 large brown onions, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, sliced
4 celery stalks, diced
1 bulb fennel, diced
3cm-thick piece pancetta, diced
1 fresh bay leaf
3 sprigs thyme
3 tbsp tomato paste
10cm piece parmesan rind (optional)
1.5 litres quality chicken stock, preferably home-made
200g green beans, cut into 4cm lengths
1/2 bunch of chard or silverbeet, cut in 2cm widths including most of the stem
2 handfuls short pasta
grated parmesan, to serve
kale (optional, see tips at bottom of recipe)
1. Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan-forced).
2. Cook the soaked beans in simmering water for 20 minutes, or until just tender - a little bite here is OK, as they'll be cooked again in the soup.
3. Meanwhile, toss the carrot, parsnip, sweet potato and fennel seeds in oil, season and tip on to a lined baking tray. Roast for 30 minutes.
4. Add a splash of oil to a large heavy-based pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, celery, fennel and pancetta and sweat, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.
5. Add the bay leaf, thyme and tomato paste to the pot and cook for two minutes while stirring. Add the roasted vegetables, cooked beans, parmesan rind, stock and one litre of water and bring to a simmer. Add the green beans and chard and cook for 15 minutes. Add the pasta for the last eight minutes of cooking. Keep an eye on the level of the liquid. It should be a thick soup but you may have to add a little more water.
6. Once cooked, adjust the seasoning (remove the parmesan rind if you like, but it will keep imparting flavour if you're not serving all the soup at once) and serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some grated parmesan.
1. Ask at your local deli for a piece of parmesan rind. They will often have some they can give you, or might put some aside for the next time you're in.
2. Roasting the vegetables adds intensity and richness to the soup; they also hold their shape better in the liquid.
3. For an optional garnish, toss some kale leaves in oil and a little salt and dehydrate in a low oven until crunchy.