What is a Minestra? Minestra predates zuppa (another type of Italian soup) by a few centuries. Derived from the Latin ministrare, meaning to administer, the word reflects how minestra was served from a large bowl or pot by the figurehead in the household. Minestra was traditionally the principal – and often the only – dish served in a meal.
Today it is a rather umbrella term referring to a first course of vegetables, legumes, pasta or rice cooked in a stock. Minestrone is one of many minestra soups. Regional variations abound but a minestrone always includes a vegetable that will thicken the soup, such as fresh or dried beans, potatoes or pumpkin. It must also include pasta or rice. Our soup today is a type of Minestrone (Minestrone di Fagioli or Minestrone di Pasta e Fagioli), one that does not include a large variety of vegetables. You will find similar soups under many different names as your browse the internet.
Minestra di Pasta e Fagioli Borlotti | Italian Borlotti Bean and Pasta Soup
200g borlotti beans, soaked overnight, drained and pre-cooked until softening but not completely cooked – do not drain the cooking water
200g ripe tomatoes
3 Tblspn olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1 l vegetable stock or water
90g pasta – e.g. vermicelli, spaghetti or a short variety
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
parmesan cheese, grated, to serve
Halve the tomatoes and drizzle with oil, and roast in a 200C oven for 20 mins until they begin to colour. If they are small tomatoes, make a slit in them and roast them whole. When roasted, chop or mash them and remove skins. Set aside.
Slowly cook the onion, celery, garlic and carrots in the remaining olive oil until softened and sweetened. Season lightly.
Add the bay leaves, stock, tomatoes and borlotti beans. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, until the beans are tender. The time taken will depend on the beans. Older, drier beans can take a long time. Fresher ones will cook more quickly. If you have pre-cooked the beans it should take about 30 mins or so. Add more water if necessary while cooking.
Remove the bay leaves.
Break any long pasta into smaller pieces. Add the pasta to the soup and simmer, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Serve in warm bowls sprinkled with parmesan cheese, if desired.
recipe notes and alternatives
The soup can be made with a mixture of cannellini beans, chickpeas and borlotti beans. Or make with either chickpeas or cannellini beans alone. For variety, try the large dried fava beans (shelled) or lima beans (butter beans).
Of course, rinsed tinned beans can be used, but I always prefer to soak and cook my own – they have better flavour and texture.
A stalk of rosemary and/or a stick of cinnamon can be added to the soup as it cooks.
A squeeze of lemon juice or a drop or two of Angostura Bitters enlivens the soup.