Hearty Minestrone Soup
The word minestrone, roughly translated from Italian, means "the big soup." It is generally a hearty soup, made with a variety of seasonal vegetables, meat if desired and occasionally pasta or rice. Our version is made with Italian sausage, cabbage, zucchini, cannellini beans and some fabulous flavor boosters including pancetta, a rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and dry red wine.
Hearty Minestrone Soup
- 2 cans (15-ounce) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 lb pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 10 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 lb Italian sausage, removed from the casing
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups diced tomatoes, with their juices
- 4 cups green cabbage, chopped
- Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind, 3-inch chunk (optional)
- 2 medium zucchini (1 lb), cut into bite-sized cubes
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup soft breadcrumbs (optional)
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese for serving
Drain the cannellini beans in a colander and rinse them lightly. Place all but 1/2 cup in the work bowl of a food processor and purée until smooth. Set aside both the purée and the reserved beans.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed 7-quart dutch oven. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally until the fat has rendered and it begins to brown. Add the onion, carrots and celery and continue cooking until the vegetables are soft and beginning to turn golden. Add the oregano and crushed red pepper. Season with salt and pepper, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute longer.
Add the sausage and continue cooking, breaking the meat into small chunks as it begins to brown. Deglaze with the red wine, scraping up any browned bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan.
Reduce the heat to low and stir in the chicken broth, tomatoes, cannellini purée, cannellini beans, cabbage and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind (if using). Combine well, cover and cook on a low simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
After the soup has cooked for an hour, add the zucchini. If at this point you feel the soup needs thickening, stir in 1/4 cup of the soft breadcrumbs. Allow to cook for 5 minutes, check the thickness and add up to 1/4 cup additional breadcrumbs if desired. Cover and continue cooking for 30 minutes.
At this point, the soup can stay on a very low heat to keep warm until ready to serve. About 10 minutes before serving, stir in the parsley.
Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls and top with grated cheese.
Makes about 5-1/2 quarts