Italian Minestrone

  • 200g cannellini or borlotti beans, fresh, or dried and soaked overnight
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tomato, squashed
  • 1 small potato, peeled
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • olive oil
  • 4 rashers smoked pancetta or bacon, preferably free-range or organic
  • 2 small red onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 sticks of celery, trimmed and chopped
  • ½ a head of fennel, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • a small bunch of fresh basil, leaves and stalks separated
  • 2 x 400g tins of good-quality plum tomatoes
  • a glass of red wine
  • 2 small courgettes, quartered and sliced
  • 200g chard or spinach, washed and roughly sliced (including stalks)
  • 565ml chicken, ham or vegetable stock, preferably organic
  • 55g dried pasta
  • a block of Parmesan cheese, to serve

starter | serves Serves 4 to 6

Add your fresh or dried and soaked beans to a pan of water with the bay leaf, squashed tomato and potato – this will help to flavour the beans and soften their skins. Cook until tender – check by tasting. They must be soft. Dried beans can take up to an hour, but check fresh ones after 25 minutes. Drain (reserving about half a glass of the cooking water), and discard the bay leaf, tomato and potato. Now season with salt, pepper and a splash of oil.

While the beans are cooking, make your soffrito. Heat a good splash of olive oil in a saucepan and add the chopped pancetta or bacon, onions, carrots, celery, fennel, garlic and the finely sliced basil stalks. Sweat very slowly on a low heat, with the lid just ajar, for around 15 to 20 minutes until soft, but not brown. Add the tomatoes, courgettes and red wine and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

Now add the chard or spinach, stock and beans. Put the dried pasta into a polythene bag, squeeze all the air out and tie the end up. Bash gently with a rolling pin to break the pasta into pieces. Snip the end off the bag and empty the contents into the soup. Stir and continue to simmer until the pasta is cooked.

If you think the soup is looking too thick, add a little more stock or some of the reserved cooking water to thin it down a bit. Then taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with the torn-up basil leaves and with some extra virgin olive oil drizzled over the top. Put a block of Parmesan and a grater on the table for everyone to help themselves. Heaven!

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