Homemade soup is a favorite of my son and daughter-in-law, so I always have a pot ready when they bring my beautiful grandchildren, Charlie and Lizzie, for a visit. This minestrone was also designed to accommodate both the vegetarians and meat eaters in the family. I complete the entire recipe, using vegetable broth, then set aside generous servings for them before I add the meat to the pot. The minestrone is delicious, with or without meat; the vegetarian version is nice topped with a little grated Parmesan cheese.
I created the following using only what I had in the pantry and in the refrigerator crisper. Feel free to add a couple sliced carrots if you have them on hand and omit the zucchini if desired.
Tip: Different brands of products have different amounts of salt, so taste and add salt at the very end of cooking.
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 large celery stalks, divided
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves, divided
1 garlic clove, minced
6 1/2 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth
1/4 cup green or brown lentils
1 large bay leaf
1 each teaspoon dried oregano and marjoram leaves
1/4 tsp black pepper (or to taste) or 1/8 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes, optional
2 small (6-inch) zucchinis, split lengthwise, then cut into 1/4 inch half slices
1/4 cup orzo (rice-shaped pasta) or small elbow macaroni
2 15 oz cans diced “Italian seasoned” tomatoes
1 cup rinsed and drained canned white beans
1/2 to 1 cup diced lean ham, pepperoni, or other cooked, smoked sausage, optional
Salt to taste
In a 4 quart or larger pot, combine the oil, onion, and 1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for 5 or 6 minutes, until the onion begins to brown. Stir in half the parsley and garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Add the broth, lentils, bay leaf, oregano, marjoram and black or red pepper. Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the mixture simmers, and cook, covered, stirring once or twice, for 25 to 35 minutes or until the lentils are tender.
Bring the pot to a full boil. Cut the remaining celery stalks crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. Add them along with the zucchini and pasta to the pot. Boil, covered, stirring occasionally to be sure the paste isn’t sticking to the pot bottom, until it is almost tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, white beans, ham or sausage (if using), and remaining parsley and gently simmer until the flavors are well blend, about 15 minutes. Add salt to taste and more broth (or water) if a thinner minestrone is desired. It will thicken a bit during storage, so add a bit more broth (or water) as needed when reheating.
The minestrone will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days. It may also be frozen for up to 1 month.
For another Italian-style soup you may like, this pesto-pasta-bean soup, go here.