Minestrone soup is one of my greatest triumphs. It is the one single vegetarian, non-dessert, fills-me-up thing that I introduced to my mother, and it changed her entire outlook on deeply vegetarian soups. Well all right, it just changed her outlook minestrone, and only the style of the Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. It’s still a wonderful feeling when I walk in the door and I find out that she’s making “my” minestrone soup because she thinks it will be good for lunch tomorrow.
I have been a vegetarian for over a decade and while my family makes it easy for me, there’s still a tendency to view most vegetarian meals as incomplete. My family often cooks the meat on the side but makes plenty of vegetables and no longer pressures me to return to my former meat-eating ways. I don’t really blame them, since vegetarian cookbooks feature recipes with meat substitutes, usually fake meat or tofu. I know very few omnivores who consider either of those real options.
The Moosewood Cookbook is one of the best vegetarian cookbooks I’ve ever come across. It tends to use ingredients that I already have in my kitchen. It also offers a lot of recipes that fit well on any table, no matter who is eating. It’s one of the few cookbooks that I bought my own copy of when I moved to Ypsilanti to go to college.
When I was first making forays into cooking real meals for myself, (ones that involved more vegetables and less spaghetti), I made minestrone. I liked it so much that I made it again when I went home. When I used one of the largest pots we had, and filled the kitchen with the scent of onion, oregano and tomato, my family got curious. Since I tend to make this soup with very generous proportions, I happily shared it.
It’s thick, full of vegetables and a big handful of noodles, but nary a beef bone or lamb leg to be found. It’s also surprisingly complex in flavor for something so easy to make. Easy, however, does not mean fast. It takes about an hour to chop and sauté and heat everything together. The up side is that it tastes wonderful and provides plenty of energy for a meal. Like all good soups, it’s even better the day after it’s made, when the flavors have had some time to really make close associations.
It’s a great soup to make at the end of the summer, when even someone in college like me knows about 15 people trying to get rid of their extra zucchinis. It’s equally wonderful during the winter, because it’s a hearty and filling soup.
(adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook)
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
pepper to taste
Italian seasoning to taste
4-6 carrots, sliced to bite size
3 celery stalks, sliced to bite size (the leaves are quite good in soups)
1 bell pepper
1 pint tomato puree
2 cups water
1 can red beans
1 can of great northern beans
2 cups dry pasta
3 ripe tomatoes
sharp cheddar to garnish
In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Drop in the onions, garlic, oregano, basil, pepper and Italian seasoning. Let them sauté for a few minutes while you chop up the carrots and celery. Throughout the process of making this soup, stir the pot often.
Add the carrots and celery. Cover and simmer while you chop the zucchini and the bell pepper.
Add the zucchini, bell pepper, tomato puree and water. If there’s not enough water to cook pasta in, you can always add more. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add beans. Slowly bring to a boil and add pasta. Continue to cook according to pasta directions.
Tomatoes can be added at any point after pasta is added. I like these because they add some structure to the tomato flavor, and fresh cooked tomatoes are delicious in a slightly different way than canned tomatoes. If they’re not on your grocery list, however, feel free to leave them out.
Personally, I like to top my bowl with a little sharp cheddar. Your bowl is up to you. Crackers, parsley, cheese – help yourself and enjoy.