From America's Test Kitchen Season 11: Easier Italian Favorites
Excellent minestrone soup relies on fresh, perfectly ripe vegetables. But unless you’ve got access to a sun-drenched garden in the height of summer, you’re stuck with lackluster supermarket offerings. We wanted a soup that squeezed every last ounce of flavor out of supermarket vegetables and was as satisfying as minestrone served in Italy.
To start, we limited our vegetables to a manageable six: the aromatic trio of onions, celery, and carrots; hearty cabbage; and fresh, summery zucchini and tomato, all simmered in water. We began our soup by sautéing some finely diced pancetta in a Dutch oven, then browned the vegetables in the rendered fat, which helped develop sweetness and also lent a rich flavor to the components. Before they were fully cooked, we removed the vegetables in order to prepare the starch. We decided to use cannellini beans (a favorite for their creamy texture and buttery flavor), which we soaked overnight in salted water to ensure they cooked evenly and turned out well seasoned. We added the soaked beans along with the cooking liquid (and a Parmesan rind) and simmered them together vigorously—this helped the beans release their starch to thicken the soup. Once the beans were tender, we returned the vegetables to the pot and simmered everything together until the vegetables were cooked through. And rather than using all water, we replaced a portion with chicken broth. But it wasn’t until we landed on an unusual addition—V8 juice, rather than canned tomatoes—that our soup boasted consistent tomato and vegetable flavor in every spoonful.
Serves 6 to 8
If you are pressed for time you can “quick-brine” your beans. In step 1, combine the salt, water, and beans in a large Dutch oven and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let stand 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans and proceed with the recipe. We prefer cannellini beans, but navy or great Northern beans can be used. We prefer pancetta, but bacon can be used. To make this soup vegetarian, substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth and 2 teaspoons of olive oil for the pancetta. Parmesan rind is added for flavor, but can be replaced with a 2-inch chunk of the cheese. In order for the starch from the beans to thicken the soup, it is important to maintain a vigorous simmer in step 3. The soup can be cooled, covered tightly, and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat it gently and add basil just before serving.