Minestrone soup is very versatile. With only a few basic ingredients—pasta, beans, stock, vegetables—you can create a beautiful, hearty soup. What you do with it is really up to your imagination. This is one of our favorite versions, a delicious soup for the winter months. Michael is always so happy when he comes home to a pot of this one the stove, and we all love to dip some crusty bread in the broth and sop up any left in the bowl.
I think my favorite thing about this soup is the pearl onions. They are sweeter than the common yellow or white onions, and I love to pop one whole in my mouth after it has soaked up the flavors in the pot. I also love the heartiness of the cannellini beans. I cook the beans from dry, but you can use a can of beans in a pinch. We’ve tried cooking the orzo in the soup, and it tends to balloon up and take on a mushy texture, so now I cook it separately and stir it in the soup towards the end. The soup works well with kale, spinach, or cabbage, so use whichever you have on hand or prefer. And the fresh Parmigiano Reggiano adds a good nutty and salty flavor.
You can easily make this gluten free, just omit the barley and substitute rice or quinoa for the orzo. You can also substitute a vegan cheese for the parmesan.
[Updated November 7, 2013.]
- 8 to 10 quart heavy bottom stock pot with a lid
- medium pot with lid
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 large celery stalk (chopped)
- 1 tablespoon dried basil (or 1 cube frozen basil)
- 1 teaspoon rosemary (dried or fresh )
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- ¼ cup pearl barley ((optional, omit for gluten free))
- 2 red potatoes (diced)
- 2 large carrots (diced)
- 16 ounces pearl onions (fresh or thawed from frozen)
- 2 quarts vegetable stock
- ½ cup chardonnay
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 or 4 grinds of fresh black pepper
- 2 cups cooked cannellini beans
- 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 6 ounce can tomato paste
- a few sprigs of parsley
- 8 ounces fresh kale, trimmed and chopped
- 1 cup whole grain orzo (optional)
- fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (or vegan alternative)
- crusty bread or gluten-free bread
- Warm the olive oil in the pot over medium heat. Sauté the celery, garlic, basil, rosemary, oregano, thyme until the celery is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the barley, potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, stock, wine, and bay leaf. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
- While the soup simmers, prepare the orzo pasta in the medium pot according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.
- Stir in the beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, and parsley. Bring to a boil, cover, gently boil until pasta is cooked (15 minutes).
- Add the kale and cook, uncovered, until it is tender-crisp (5 minutes). Remove the parsley sprigs. Salt and pepper to taste and stir in the cooked orzo. Serve in bowls, topped with grated Parmesan cheese and crusty bread on the side.
Make it Gluten Free
- Omit the pearl barley. Make rice or quinoa and pour soup over it. Make the pasta on the side and pour soup over it. If you use purchased stock or other ingredients, check the label to sure those items are gluten free.