Talk about a template; minestrone is a bean and vegetable soup and, loosely defined, can use any bean, any shape of pasta (or no pasta), most any vegetable and herb, meat or no meat (diced bacon or a little sausage is good, added when cooking onions) be hearty and stew-like or light and brothy. For me, what makes or breaks minestrone are the beans and the bean broth. You can certainly use canned beans but home-cooked beans with their broth are what gives minestrone its richness and complexity.
Dishes like these are why I try to keep cooked beans (in their broth/cooking liquid) in the freezer and at the ready. It makes a soup like this, that cooks in 20 minutes, taste like it’s been simmering for hours–in a good way!
- A variety of vegetables are well-suited for this recipe and can be used individually or in combination, such as:
- a bunch of leafy greens, such as chopped kale or spinach
- 2 cups trimmed and chopped greens beans
- 1 cup shelled peas and/or diced fennel
- 2 cups diced zucchini
- If adding pasta, use the smaller volume for small pasta shapes like tubes, as pictured, little elbows, orzo, or the larger shells, etc.
- Any type of garlic is great in this recipe, such as 1 head new garlic, 2 stalks green garlic or garlic scapes, thinly sliced.
- Vegetable broth or water are a great substitute for bean broth if unavailable or in a pinch.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced (see variations)
1 carrot, diced (optional)
1 stalk celery, diced (optional)
1 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or any hot pepper, fresh or dried, to taste
1 cup canned or roasted/frozen or fresh tomatoes, diced
3 cups cooked beans (see headnote)
3 cups bean cooking broth (see headnote and variations)
1 cup water
1 bunch chard (see variations)
3/4 cup – 1 1/2 cups dry pasta (optional; see variations)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil, for serving
Chopped fresh parsley or basil, for serving
Heat the oil in medium pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery, if using, also add the thyme and hot pepper. Gently cook for about 8 minutes until softened and fragrant. Add the tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes, then add the beans, bean broth and water and bring to a simmer. Add the greens, beans or whatever vegetables you’re using and depending on how quick your pasta cooks, add it in as well. If you’re adding fresh shelling or snap peas or very tender greens, add those just a couple of minutes before the pasta is tender so they retain their color, shape and bite. Simmer until everything is tender. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve hot or warm (I prefer it warm) with a drizzle of olive oil and plenty of fresh basil or parsley.
Kale Salad with Chickpeas and Tahini Dressing
This salad is good, quick, hearty and adaptable. It works best with fairly young, tender kale but whatever kale you have, slice it as thinly as you can. You can add grated carrots or beets for some color and contrast.
- Sub crispy bread crumbs for the toasted nuts or seeds.
- Add 1 tablespoon of white or yellow miso to the dressing and reduce (or eliminate) the salt.
- Leftover chicken is a nice addition.
1 small bunch kale, washed and shaken dry but no need to thoroughly dry
2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, drained
2 small green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds or chopped toasted almonds or walnuts (see variations)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or more to taste
3 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon, about 2 1/2 tablespoons
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, more to taste
Black pepper, to taste
1/3 – 1/2 cup water to loosen dressing to pourable consistency
Trim the bottom few inches off the kale stems and discard. Slice the kale into 1/4-inch ribbons or as thinly as you can. Place the kale in a large bowl with the scallions.
Put the garlic, the tahini, oil, lemon juice, salt, black pepper and pepper flakes in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add water little by little and stir until smooth and pourable. Pour dressing over the kale and toss very well and taste. Add the chickpeas and the seeds or nuts. Taste and adjust seasoning with more lemon juice, salt and hot pepper as needed, to taste.
Cauliflower and Chickpeas with Turmeric
This is quick and satisfying. The yogurt is a nice counterpoint to the chickpeas and spiced cauliflower. You can add leftover chicken or tofu and/or some toasted seeds or nuts for variety and texture.
Serves 4 as a side or 2 as an entrée topped with an egg or other variations (see headnote)
2 tablespoons olive, coconut or sunflower oil
1 small-medium head of cauliflower, trimmed and broken into florets
1 1/2 cups (or more) cooked or canned chickpeas, drained
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/3 – 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/3 – 1/2 cup Greek or plain, whole-milk yogurt
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cauliflower and stir and then cook without stirring for a few minutes to let it brown a bit. Add about 1/2 cup of water and cover and continue cooking for another few minutes until the cauliflower is just tender when pierced with a fork.
Add a little more oil if the pan is dry and then stir in the spices and let cook for a few seconds. Add the chickpeas and stir well and cook until just heated through. Make sure not to burn the spices so turn the heat down if need be. Season generously with salt and serve topped with cilantro and yogurt.