We're all a little idealistic during our grocery shop. We'll raid the fresh produce section for a number of vegetables and fruits we swear we'll eat but the reality is sometimes we lie to ourselves. Having said that, we're here to give you a fullproof idea — if you've got vegetables in your crisper that are looking a little worse for wear, make a minestrone.
I bought myself a bunch of celery a few weeks back planning to make a ragù. While I only needed a few branches, many supermarkets in Australia seem to only let you buy a huge bunch fit for a large family. Once I used the amount I needed for my recipe, I chucked the remainder in my fridge's crisper and its presence slipped my mind.
Fast forward a few weeks and I realised my celery was still edible but was definitely approaching its last legs. Not wanting to waste it and the other deteriorating vegetables beside it, I chopped off any iffy bits and planned to make my favourite soup — the minestrone.
Minestrones are the cooking world's answer to leftover vegetables. They're a common go-to for Italians during winter thanks to their heartiness but another key factor for their popularity is the ease at which you can make them.
How to make minestrone soup
The basic tenants that make a soup a minestrone include tinned tomatoes or passata base, chicken or vegetable stock, kidney or cannellini beans (but any will probably do) and a small amount of pasta — soup pasta, macaroni, shells or broken up spaghetti. Some will argue celery is also essential — I do — but if it's not in your fridge, you can do without it.
Outside of that, chuck whatever veggies you have on the verge of rotting in your soup. Potatoes, beans, zucchinis, cabbage, carrots and whatever else you think will fit the bill. There are some that probably won't work in my opinion, like lettuce or capsicum, but it's ultimately your decision. If you're really needing some meat in there, you can fry some bacon or guanciale first before adding your Motley Crew of vegetables in the mix.
The key is once you chuck your veggies and tinned tomatoes in, fill it up proportionally with some vegetable or chicken stock, and let it cook on a low-medium heat until the flavours fuse together. This usually takes at least an hour but then you have a heavenly soup for days.
If you need a further breakdown on how to make it yourself, here's a rough guide to making your own minestrone. I'll preface this first — I'm not a chef but I like to think I know good food and this method has always worked for me.
What you'll need:
- 1 x onion, diced
- 1 x clove of garlic, diced
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 x celery branches, chopped
- 2 x tinned tomatoes or passata jars
- 2 x tinned beans (I recommend cannellini or kidney beans)
- 1 litre of soup stock (chicken or vegetable and adjust amount based on your pot and whatever veggies you're putting in)
- 1 x 2cm cube of parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup of small-sized pasta (Soup pasta is the best but shells or macaroni will do)
- Fresh or dried herbs — thyme, oregano, parsley and sage
- Plus add the contents of your vegetable crisper, diced
- Simmer diced onions in oil and butter until they start to brown on medium-high heat. Optional: Add your guanciale or bacon here and cook until they start to crisp.
- Add whatever diced vegetables you wish to add. Note: It's best to add in the tougher vegetables like carrots, celery and potatoes first as they take longer to cook, followed by the softer ones like zucchini and eggplant.
- After the vegetables start to cook, add tinned tomatoes and/or passata and fill with around one litre of vegetable or chicken stock (dependent on how large your pot is and how many veggies you're putting in).
- Add herbs and parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper.
- Stir ingredients together and leave to simmer over low heat for at least an hour.
- Once all the veggies are cooked, add your tinned beans and leave for another 10 minutes.
- Add pasta in and cook until its al dente.
- Remove from heat and serve with a generous heap of grated parmesan on top.
The best thing about this no-frills recipe is that you can experiment with different veggies. When I don't have enough veggies in my crisper, I do commit a cardinal cooking sin and add some frozen ones in and the soup still tastes fine.
The important part of this lesson is not to waste food.
Allegedly, there’s no wrong way to make a pot of puréed vegetable soup. But I dunno — have you ever made a really bad batch? At its worst, it’s truly unsalvageable; a bland, watery disaster that no amount of clever seasoning and full-fat dairy can help.