Minestra or Zuppa are just a few ways of saying soup in Italian. On a rainy or dismal day there is nothing more comforting that having a nice bowl of soup to enjoy.
Although Minestra (which comes from the Latin word minestare meaning to administer) is now a generic term for any liquidy soup consisting of pasta, rice, legumes and verdure. It originally was used to denote the first course in a multi-course meal. However, in the case of the poor it was the only satisfying course.
- 3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
- 2 lbs escarole – washed, rough chop
- 1 ½ qts chicken broth – homemade or canned
- Freshly grated cheese – our favorite for topping
- 1 onion – medium, rough chop
- 2 (14 oz) cans Cannellini beans – drained
- Salt and pepper – to taste
- Crusty Italian bread – for sopping
- Red pepper flakes – optional, to taste
TO MAKE THE SOUP:
- In your heavy soup pot, over moderate heat, sauté garlic and pancetta in extra virgin olive oil until you can smell the garlic and the pancetta starts to crisp lightly. Stir well while cooking.
- Add the onion and cook for a few minutes longer.
- Add the escarole and stir around in the pot to wilt slightly and allow them to fit in the pot.
- Then add the broth, drained beans and cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes or until the greens are no long stiff and have lost a little of their bitterness.
- Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Cook a few minutes longer and sprinkle with a few red pepper flakes, if using.
- Pour into serving bowls, top with a few sprinkles of extra virgin olive oil and pass the freshly grated cheese for topping.
- A nice full bodied red wine and crusty Italian bread for sopping extra broth complete the meal.
NOTE: As my Little Nonna and my Father did, I like to start this soup with “sofrito” which is finely chopped, celery, carrot, onion, garlic, sprinkled lightly with salt and pepper and slowly sauteed in my soup pot before adding the other ingredients.
This is totally optional, but I always felt it added extra flavor. Little Nonna also would include some peeled potato cubes if this was the only course and this I remember happened during the ‘40’s, during the war when some things were scarce. Sometimes she added a scant amount of a small pasta like Orzo, all in her meaningful way to fill our stomachs. But now we find this very basic soup on the menu of many restaurants where all kinds of extra things are added, but you can’t improve on the flawless original; mainly because it was made with caring and love.