From Susannah Kite Strang
[Ed: Says Susannah, “This recipe’s kind of a behemoth; I had to change the name from “easy minestrone …”. But the results are well worth all the chopping, crushing, smashing, and stirring. A hearty soup with a complex flavor you don’t often taste in veggie broth, it was also quite thick. Take heed of that final note re: adding liquid during reheating.]
Ingredients3-4 tablespoons olive oil 1 large onion, any variety *1 med-large rutabaga *2-3 medium parsnips (or enough to make about a cup finely chopped) 2-3 med-large carrots (or enough to make about a cup finely chopped) 3 celery ribs 1 large or 2 medium potatoes, any kind but baking 2 bay leaves ½ cup dried lentils ¼ cup tomato paste 2+ quarts water or vegetable stock (Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone has excellent stock instructions) 1 28 oz. can whole Italian tomatoes ** 2-4 rinds from Parmigiano reggiano or similar hard grating cheese *about 1 cup chick peas (canned, fresh, or dried/prepared) *about 1 cup cannellini beans (canned, fresh, or dried/prepared) *about 1 cup red beans, any kind (canned, fresh, or dried/prepared) 4 cloves garlic finely diced *6-8 oz. whole wheat rotini, smashed to bits with a wine bottle (any small pasta will work, but this is fun—just cover with a towel so the bits don’t hit you in the eye) 1 handful parsley, chopped 1 cup chopped fresh spinach or other cooking greens; radish tops work well 1-2 tsp fresh or dried oregano salt and pepper pinch red pepper flakes
*Starred ingredients can be omitted or replaced with stuff you have on hand: hard squash, summer squash/zucchini, celeriac, different colored potatoes; any kind of fresh or canned beans; bulgur, quinoa or rice blends for the pasta. Add water/spices as necessary to balance broth level.
**For a vegan soup, use a few tablespoons of soy sauce and a small amount of brewer’s yeast to approximate the flavor from the cheese rinds.
Begin by chopping the onion, carrot, celery, rutabaga, and potato to a medium/fine dice. You can leave the scrubbed skin of organic carrots and potatoes on if you prefer; they lend a deeper flavor to the broth.
Heat olive oil in the bottom of a large soup pot. When the oil is hot add the onions and sauté 5-8 minutes. Add everything else you have chopped so far plus the bay leaves; let cook together, lid on, for about15 minutes—stir occasionally.
Add about a teaspoon of salt, the tomato paste, the pinch of red pepper flakes and the lentils, and sauté with the vegetables for 5 minutes or so, stirring to combine.
Add the liquid, bring to a boil, and reduce to a high simmer for about 20 minutes until lentils are tender.
Add the tomatoes by pouring through your hand and thoroughly crushing each tomato as it enters the soup. Follow with the cheese rinds, beans, and garlic; bring to a simmer for about ½ hour to allow flavors to combine and develop. A longer cooking can be nice if you have time—periodically check to make sure nothing is getting too mushy; add liquid and or salt if necessary to balance the broth.
Bring to a high simmer, add the pasta and cook for about 15 minutes. At this stage as the pasta absorbs some of the liquid, the broth should be thick, flavorful, and reddish-opaque. Add more liquid if necessary as the pasta will continue to suck it up for a while, gaining the flavor as it cooks (some strongly advocate for using precooked pasta to avoid broth absorption and floppy pasta; as long as the pasta is small, I think bulked-up pasta bits are one of the unique pleasures of minestrone, but precook the pasta if you prefer).
In the last 10 minutes or so, add the parsley and greens, and adjust seasonings including the red pepper flakes.
You can serve plain or with a shaving of Parmesan. This soup keeps well, but may need an infusion of liquid during reheating.