Minestrone made with the freshest organic vegetables from our CSA and local farms epitomizes the late summer harvest. It also produces a pile of trimmings that I turn into delicious vegetable stock, some used in the soup and more stashed in the freezer for another day. While we have a village of cylindrical compost piles in the backyard, we try to use as many of our vegetable scraps to feed ourselves before consigning the rest to the heap. Throughout the week, I may add to trimmings stored in the refrigerator if I know I’m going to make chicken stock or a vegetable broth. I don’t go overboard with this, since refrigerating a swamp is not my idea of maintaining a healthy environment.
I had made fresh shelling beans earlier in the day and I saved the liquid for the broth, adding water and the trimmings from all of the minestrone ingredients: onions, scallions/leeks, celery, potatoes, carrots, zucchini, beans, tomatoes, basil (stems) and garlic. I also had a lone large mushroom in the veggie bin so in it went also along with a bit of salt. I add some salt to bring out the flavor of the vegetables but typically wait until the end when the broth has reduced. When you make vegetable broth, it’s not necessary to throw in the kitchen sink. Try to use ingredients that are complementary, that you could imagine being combined into a dish. The mushroom here was a little of an anomaly but is a frequent ingredient in such broths because of its earthy richness.
In addition to saving the trimmings of vegetables, I stockpile the rinds of Parmesan cheese, since I like to add one to minestrone and other soups (celery for example), which may end up with a dusting of cheese at the end. The cheese rinds impart a richness and depth of flavor to the soup.
1 large onion, chopped
1 leek or several scallions, sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped into the same size pieces as the onion
2 medium-large carrots, cut into ¼-inch pieces
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼ -inch pieces
1 medium-large zucchini, cut into ¼-inch pieces
3-4 medium tomatoes, cut into thick chunks
4 slices thick bacon or salt pork, cut into small squares or cubes
4-6 c chicken stock or a combination of chicken stock and vegetable broth (and water)
1 piece of Parmesan cheese rind (1½ – 2 inches square)
Salt and pepper
1 c cooked dried white beans or fresh shelling beans
Optional: ¼ c raw rice
Garnish: Basil pesto made of basil leaves, garlic clove and olive oil
Garnish: Grated Parmesan cheese
Prepare all of the vegetables, reserving the trimmings for broth. (See below for making the broth, which can be done in about 20 minutes before making the minestrone if you plan to incorporate it into the dish.)
Saute the bacon or salt pork slowly in a little olive oil in a saucepan large enough to hold the soup. Remove the meat when it is crispy and reserve it to add back to the soup later on.
Add the onions and leeks (or scallions) to the pan and cook slowly until translucent. Add the celery, carrots, potatoes, and zucchini, and stir to coat them. Let them cook for a minute or two and add the tomatoes, the liquid and the cheese rind. Season with a little salt and pepper. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes.
Add the beans and rice if using. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes until the rice is cooked. Add the reserved bacon, remove the cheese rind and adjust the seasonings. Serve hot with basil pesto and grated Parmesan cheese.
Place trimmings from complementary vegetables in a large saucepan. Cover with water and add a little salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Drain and use right away or refrigerate or freeze it.