Mary Beth Clark

Culinary Educator · Consultant · Author
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Vegetable Soup with Basil Pesto, Genoa-style

Minestrone alla Genovese

Made in many Italian regions, minestrone is a classic vegetable soup mixed with pasta or rice. In the northern region of Liguria and its main city, Genoa, minestrone includes short, tubular pasta. Of course it is finished with a dollop of Classic Basil Pesto, a culinary cornerstone since fragrant fresh basil proliferates along the region’s Mediterranean coast.

A variety of fresh seasonal vegetables can be combined for making this great-tasting, nutritious soup, including all types of soft summer squash and string beans, tomatoes, potatoes, leeks, peas, carrots, celery, and onion. Sweet peppers, fennel, cabbage, cauliflower, borlotti beans, or cannellini beans can be added, but make it a small amount of these assertive flavors for ideally all ingredients blend together in taste and the soup should remain light in texture.

Leafy greens are always a part of this classic Italian zuppa. Often borrage is used, but unless you grow this herb yourself or know someone who does, substitute Swiss chard or spinach. (Note that Swiss chard with red stalks gives a pale reddish-pink color to the soup’s broth.) Whatever vegetable you have growing in your garden that is bountiful, include. I have lovely zucchini flowers blooming daily, so in they go. Taking only 1 hour to cook, minestrone is fun to make and is a wonderful “end of summer garden” soup.

Italian vegetable soups usually are made with water, not heavy broth. Water enables the pure flavors of each vegetable to be tasted and actually enhances them. Sometimes I add a small amount of homemade vegetable or chicken broth for structure. Always I recommend making soup with water that you love to drink, so use filtered or mineral water. Teaching in Bologna for so many years, I am accustomed to adding a small section of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind to soup. So if you have some handy, add a piece, for it gives body and a mild saltiness that marries well with vegetables.

To create your own blend of ingredients for this minestrone as shown in the photo, plan on about 8 cups of raw vegetables, 8 cups of water (or water and broth), and 1/2 cup dry short pasta which doubles in size once boiled. Simmer uncovered for an hour until the vegetables are cooked through and soft, but not mushy. The colors and shapes, textures and flavors of the seasonal vegetables are a delight to the eye as well as the palate. Minestrone alla Genovese is best enjoyed the same day or within one day of making, serve warm or lightly chilled.

4 to 6 servings. Cooking time is 1 hour.

2 tablespoons (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 thick slice of yellow onion, finely chopped
1 medium celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, thinly sliced
1 medium leek, white part only, thinly sliced
2 small zucchini and/or yellow squash, split lengthwise, sliced
1 piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, optional
7 cups (56 ounces or 1.7 liters) filtered or mineral water
1 cup (8 ounces or 237 ml) chicken or vegetable broth
Salt to taste

2 medium ripe beefsteak tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
4 ounces (115 g) string beans, yellow wax beans, or pole beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 large potato, peeled, diced
1/4 small fennel bulb, diced
12 small Swiss chard or 24 large spinach leaves, cut into 1-inch strips
1/2 cup (2 ounces or 57 g) ditalini pasta
Zucchini flowers, optional
Classic Basil Pesto, optional


Choose an assortment of fresh seasonal vegetables

1. Keep all vegetables separate since they are added to the soup at different times. In a deep soup pot or casserole over low heat, warm the olive oil and saute the onion, celery, carrot and leek for 5 minutes. Occasionally stir to prevent burning. Add the sliced zucchini and/or yellow squash, the rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and pour in the water and broth. Add a pinch of salt. Turn the heat to medium-low and simmer for 25 minutes uncovered, do not boil. This step produces a light vegetable broth which adds body to the minestrone. The soup is now half-way done.

2. Add the chopped tomatoes and beans and simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Add the diced potato, sliced fennel and Swiss chard and simmer for 15 minutes uncovered. (If adding spinach instead of Swiss chard, add the spinach when you add the pasta, during the final few minutes of cooking.) Occasionally stir the soup to prevent scorching of any vegetables laying on the bottom.

Meanwhile, in a pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta to firmer than al dente stage. (Example: Boil ditalini for only 7 minutes.) Drain and add the pasta to the soup where it finishes cooking within 3 to 4 minutes. If you have fresh zucchini flowers, nestle them in the simmering soup during the final minute. Season to taste with salt.

Serve in soup bowls. If you have some basil pesto in your refrigerator, add a dollop on top of the soup and a zucchini flower as shown in the photo. Each diner swirls the pesto into the minestrone. Don’t forget to serve the rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano that has been simmering in the soup, it’s warm, soft, and delicious served with bruschetta or toasted bread!

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