The most popular new book about soup and only soup comes from British restaurateur John Vincent and food writer Jane Vincent. Leon Happy Soups brings the recipes from the beloved London produce palace straight to your own kitchen. Remember: A boring bowl is not a happy bowl. And a bowl full of winter minestrone is sure to warm you up right.
There are dozens of recipes for minestrone, which means “big soup” (“maxistrone”) in Italian. It can be made at any time of year, using whatever seasonal vegetables you have, and the only rule — if there can be said to be any at all — is that you also include some little hunks of starch in it. These could be pasta, potatoes, or pulses or a combination.
The habit of adding canned tomatoes is a British invention, rather than Italian, but one which Rebecca loves, having grown up with it. The bacon or pancetta is not essential, but if you use any be sure to cut it up into tiny pieces, as otherwise you will be left with slightly rubbery, not totally appetizing strips of boiled meat, when all you really want is a subtle hint of porkiness in the broth.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 1 leek, trimmed and finely chopped
- 1 carrot, finely diced
- 1 stalk celery, finely diced
- About 2 slices smoked bacon or pancetta (optional), rind removed, very finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste
- 1 cup canned chopped tomatoes
- 3 1/4 cups hot chicken or vegetable broth
- A small pinch fresh thyme leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 14-ounce can cannellini beans, drained
- 3 ounces small pasta, like macaroni, broken spaghetti, or smell pasta shells
- 3 1/2 ounces kale or savoy cabbage, ribs removed, leaves shredded
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- grated Parmesan, to serve
For the soup
Place a large saucepan with a lid over medium heat. Add the oil and when hot, add the onion, leek, carrot, celery, and salt and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes. The aim is to let the vegetables sweat rather than color, so turn the heat down if you see them beginning to brown. Next, add the bacon, if using, garlic, and tomato paste, and cook for another 5 minutes, again stirring often.
Pour in the tomatoes and cook for a minute or so, then add the hot broth, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, then cover and leave for about 20 minutes.
Add the beans, pasta, and kale or cabbage and cook for 1 minute less than the pasta package directions suggest, or until the pasta is al dente. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. If the soup seems closer to a stew than a soup, add a little boiling water to loosen it—pasta can absorb a lot of liquid as it cooks.
Serve in wide bowls, with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan.