Recipe: A soup for all seasons

Lynda Balslev | TasteFood

Sometimes, all we need is a bowl of soup -- to feed a family, to clean out the vegetable bin, to add warmth to a cold evening. Minestrone is a classic Italian vegetable soup. It has a tomato-infused broth that's bright and fresh, studded with hearty white beans to provide substance, and often includes small pasta. It's an all-year soup, boosted by the season's vegetables. Carrots, celery and onion are a reliable year-round trio that provide the aromatics for the broth.

In the cold season, add chopped root vegetables, winter squash or potatoes; in warmer weather, go lighter and greener with fresh beans and summer squash. No matter what you choose to add, always include a hunk of cheese rind to simmer and impart umami richness in the broth.

For easy preparation, canned beans are a handy pantry addition. However, if you have time, use cooked dried beans. They have great flavor and hold their texture well, without dissolving into mush. If you decide to cook the beans, make extra. They freeze beautifully for future soups and dishes.

To cook dried beans, rinse them, then cover with cold water and let them soak for a few hours or overnight. The next day, drain the beans and cook in fresh water (infused with aromatics such as onion, bay leaf and garlic, if you like) until they are tender but not too soft, about 45 minutes. Note that the length of cooking time will depend on the type of bean, as well as the length of time they have been in storage (older beans take longer to cook). Once cooked, use the beans immediately; or quickly cool them and refrigerate for up to three days or freeze for up to three months.


Active time: 15 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• 1 medium onion, chopped

• 2 carrots, diced

• 2 celery ribs, diced

• 1 medium turnip, peeled, diced

• 3 garlic cloves, minced

• 1 teaspoon dried oregano

• 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

• 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

• 1/4 cup tomato paste

• 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes

• 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

• 1 bay leaf

• 1 (2-inch) Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind

• 1 teaspoon salt, or more as needed

• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

• 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

• 2 cups cooked Italian butter beans or 1 (15-ounce) can Italian white beans, drained

• 2 packed cups spinach or curly kale leaves, tough ribs or stems removed, coarsely chopped

• Chopped Italian parsley leaves for garnish

• Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until it begins to soften without coloring, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the carrots, celery and turnip. Saute until the vegetables brighten in color and soften slightly, 2 to 3 minutes more. Add the garlic, oregano, thyme and red pepper flakes. Stir until fragrant, then add the tomato paste. Continue to stir to make a slurry and cook the tomato paste, about 1 minute.

2. Add the tomatoes, stock, bay leaf, cheese rind, salt and black pepper. If the soup is too thick, add more stock or water to your desired consistency.

3. Bring to a boil, then simmer, partially covered, over medium-low heat until the vegetables are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and lemon juice and taste for seasoning. Stir in the beans and continue to simmer for about 10 minutes more. Add the greens and stir until they wilt, 1 to 2 minutes.

4. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with parsley. Serve with grated cheese for sprinkling.

Lynda Balslev is an award-winning writer, cookbook author, and recipe developer based in northern California. Visit TasteFood at