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Life is a Minestrone

A big pot of home-made minestrone soup
Nothing better than a rich satisfying home-made minestrone to warm you up in winter

Life is a minestrone’ is the title of a very average song I first heard at the iconic all day music festival in August 1976 at Knebworth Park in Hertfordshire. Along with 200,000 other music fans we were there mainly because the Rolling Stones had top billing and one of the support bands happened to be 10cc who performed their new song ‘life is a minestrone'.

It’s a typical offbeat and surreal 10cc composition which also includes the line ‘death is a cold lasagne’ in the lyrics, but at least they spelled lasagne correctly because everyone in England mistakenly refers to this Italian dish in the singular, ie lasagna, which doesn’t really exist because it’s like saying spaghetto instead of spaghetti.

Ingredients for Italian minestrone
Fresh vegetables and several rinds of parmigiano reggiano are essential if you want to make the real Italian version

Making a really good minestrone is not a quick process because there are a lot of fresh vegetables that need to be washed, chopped and sautéd, so it’s best to make a very large quantity and utilize the freezer to enjoy the soup again and again without any more work involved. The following points are key to having a soup with deep, rich flavors instead of the watery mess that comes from not taking the time to do everything properly:

home-made chicken stock for a minestrone

1. A good home-made stock is essential and whenever I spatchcock a chicken or cut it into six pieces I save the backbone and the small bones and cartilage below the breast, and when I’ve several in the freezer I boil them for 3-4 hours with celery, onion and carrot and make a huge pot of stock for a large minestrone in the winter.

2. The second thing to get right if you want a great soup is to sequentially sauté the vegetables in olive oil and butter before adding them to the simmering stock when partially cooked. The process of sautéing brings out the flavor in the same way as the Maillard reaction when sautéing meat. Unlike with meat however it is important not to brown the vegetables at all, but this step is vital because simply boiling all the vegetables does not result in a soup with a deep rich flavor.

parmigiano reggiano cheese rinds

3. Most people making minestrone outside Italy don’t realize that this is the ideal opportunity to use all the parmigiano reggiano rinds that you’ve saved up over the summer as well as other hard cheese rinds like aged pecorino.

An Italian household like ours will accumulate at least eight large rinds over the summer and they become soft and delicious after the minestrone has simmered for 2-3 hours. In fact they are so good that people will fight over them.

And back to the 10cc song, the second line of the chorus after ‘life is a minestrone’ is ‘served up with parmesan cheese’ so they were not complete idiots it seems.

4. The vegetables should all be chopped into small but identifiable pieces and when it is finished and ladled into your bowl you should still be able to recognize all the ingredients. The quantities and proportions of each vegetable are not intended to be exact and often depend on what’s in your fridge, though everything should be fresh.

Ingredients for a very large pot of soup:

minestrone soup with croutons

2-3 liters chicken stock

3 medium onions

3 carrots

3 ribs of celery

3 small leeks

300g potatoes

150g green beans

250g zucchine

200g shredded cabbage

300g spinach

400g can of cannellini beans

400g can of peeled tomatoes or passata

several crusts of parmigiano reggiano and aged pecorino


1. Sieve the chicken stock into a large pot and bring to a simmer just below boiling and add the cheese rinds.

2. In another pan sauté the onions in olive oil and butter for 5 minutes on medium heat without browning and then add the carrots and celery and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.

3. Add the pieces of potato and cook for a further 5 minutes and then empty everything into the pot with the chicken stock.

4. Sequentially add the leeks, green beans and zucchine to the sauté pan, cook for 5-10 minutes and then pour into the stock pot.

5. Sauté the spinach and shredded cabbage for 5 minutes before adding to the stock pot.

6. Add salt and pepper to each of the vegetables as they cook in the sauté pan.

7. Drain the canellini beans of their liquid and add them to the stock pot together with the tomato passata

8. Cover the pot and let it simmer on low heat bubbling very slowly for about 2-3 hours.

a close-up of minestrone soup with croutons

When finished it should be a thickish soup but the vegetables should not have disintegrated into a mush. Serve with home-made sourdough bread fresh and still warm from the oven. Recipe for this 24 hour fermentation bread (below photo) to follow at a later date.

Home made sourdough bread requiring 24 hours of fermentation
Home made sourdough bread requiring 24 hours of fermentation


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