Minestrone is one of our favorite, cook once, eat twice (or more) recipes. Despite its long list of ingredients, most of the time it takes to make this soup is hands-off and when it’s done, you’ll have an entire meal in a bowl for your efforts.
Translated from Italian, the word minestrone (pronounced min·eh·strow·nee), means the big soup. In Italy, the ingredient list varies slightly from region to region but usually consists of beans, a variety of seasonal vegetables, and rice, bread (for thickening), or pasta.
Our version of minestrone includes the addition of Italian sausage, and while not typical in authentic Italian cuisine, we think it makes for a terrific soup. Read on for more information on the other ingredients.
Key ingredients for a hearty soup
- Pancetta: Often referred to as Italian bacon, pancetta is pork belly that’s been seasoned and salt-cured (not smoked like bacon). You can sometimes find it pre-packaged and already diced, but if you can’t, go to the deli counter and order a slice about 1/4 to 3/8-inches thick and dice it yourself.
- Soffritto (onion, carrots, celery, and garlic): Soffrito is the Italian version of the French mirepoix, a sautéed blend of aromatic vegetables that provides an essential flavor base for many soups, sauces, and stocks. Like mirepoix, it consists of chopped onion, carrots, and celery, but the Italian version replaces the butter with olive oil, adds garlic, and occasionally diced pancetta or prosciutto.
- Italian sausage: You can opt to leave the sausage out of this recipe, especially if you are planning to serve it as a first course, but we really love the extra flavor and hearty quality it adds to our minestrone.
- Red wine: After sautéing the pancetta, soffritto, and sausage, we deglaze the pan with dry red wine. Combined with the tomatoes, it adds rich, robust flavor to the soup base.
- Tomatoes: Diced tomatoes, along with their juices combine with chicken (or beef) stock to make a classic minestrone soup. In addition to providing flavor, their acidity helps to balance the richness of both the sausage and the cannellini beans.
- Cannellini beans: This soup recipe uses both whole and puréed cannellini beans (white kidney beans). The purée is important as it serves as the primary thickener for the soup and adds nutritional value in the form of protein and fiber. We reserve a few whole beans for texture and visual appeal.
- Chicken broth: You’ll need 1-1/2 quarts of low-sodium chicken broth for this soup recipe. If you have some homemade broth on hand, even better.
- Cabbage: Thin shreds of green cabbage add to both the heartiness and flavor of the soup and from a nutritional standpoint, extra fiber.
- Zucchini: This tender summer squash has a very mild flavor on its own, but when added to a rich blend of ingredients like the ones in this soup, it absorbs those flavors and adds both texture and visual appeal.
- Cheese rind: Adding a piece of rind from a wedge of aged Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese doesn’t just add flavor, it lends a slightly creamy quality to the soup that we happen to enjoy.
- Soft breadcrumbs: Depending on your personal taste, you may want to thicken the soup a little more after it has cooked for a while. Soft breadcrumbs are perfect for this. Just stir them in small quantities, give them a few minutes to absorb liquid, and add more if necessary.
- Fresh parsley: We always like to stir in some chopped parsley just before serving for a touch of fresh flavor and bright green color.
- Grated cheese: For a finishing touch, grate some Parmesan cheese over each bowl of soup at the table.
When to add pasta
Minestrone soup is plenty satisfying without pasta added, but if you do use it, choose a small cut like ditalini (pictured here) and be sure to cook and store it separately from the soup.
This way it will stay firm and won’t over-thicken the soup. When you are ready to serve, there’s no need to heat it separately. Just add the pasta to the bottom of the bowl, spoon the hot soup over it and give it a stir.
Minestrone soup really has everything you need for a well-balanced meal, but if you’re making this for a Sunday dinner, you might want to add a tossed salad and some homemade garlic breadsticks.
When it comes to a wine pairing, a full-bodied Italian red like Chianti or Barbera is an obvious choice. For the beer lovers, try a light, European-style lager like Peroni Nastro Azzurro.
More Italian soup recipes
Hearty Minestrone Soup
- 2 cans, 15-ounce low sodium cannellini beans
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 lb pancetta, diced
- 1 small 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
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 10 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 lb Italian sausage removed from the casing
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups diced tomatoes, including juices
- 4 cups green cabbage, thinly sliced
- Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind, optional
- 2 medium zucchini, cut into bite-sized cubes
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup soft breadcrumbs, optional
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving
- Cooked ditalini pasta, optional
- Drain the cannellini beans into a colander and rinse them thoroughly. Reserve 1/2 cup and add the remainder to the work bowl of a food processor. Purée until smooth and set aside.
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally until the fat has rendered, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add the onion, carrots, and celery, and continue cooking until the vegetables are soft and just beginning to caramelize.
- Sprinkle with oregano, crushed red pepper, and add a few grinds of black pepper. Refrain from adding any salt at this point (see recipe notes).
- Stir in the garlic and continue cooking until fragrant, 1 minute longer.
- Add the sausage to the pot, begin breaking the meat into small chunks, and continue cooking until lightly browned.
- Deglaze the pan with the red wine, scrape up any browned bits that may have accumulated on the bottom of the pan, and bring to a simmer.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low, and stir in the chicken broth, tomatoes, cannellini purée, cannellini beans, cabbage, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind.
- Cover and cook on a low simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. If you find the soup is bubbling too hard, reduce the heat to low.
- After an hour of cooking, add the zucchini and taste for seasoning. You will most likely need to add a little salt at this point, but do it in small increments tasting in between additions.
- If you feel the soup needs additional thickening, stir in 1/4 cup of the soft breadcrumbs, cook for 5 minutes, check the thickness and add more (up to 1/4 cup additional) if desired.
- Cover and cook for 30 minutes longer.
- The minestrone can be kept warm over very low heat until ready to serve. About 5 minutes before serving, stir in the parsley.
- Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls and top with grated cheese.