© David Loftus
early autumn minestrone (minestrone d'inizio autunno)
Add your fresh or dried and soaked beans to a pan of water with the bay leaf, squashed tomato, and potato this will help to flavor the beans and soften their skins. Cook until tender check by tasting. They must be soft. Dried beans can take up to an hour, but check fresh ones after 25 minutes. Drain (reserving about half a glass of the cooking water), and discard the bay leaf, tomato, and potato. Now season with salt, pepper, and a splash of oil.
While the beans are cooking, make your soffrito. Heat a good splash of olive oil in a saucepan and add the chopped pancetta or bacon, onions, carrots, celery, fennel, garlic, and the finely sliced basil stems. Sweat very slowly on a low heat, with the lid just ajar, for around 15 to 20 minutes until soft, but not brown. Add the tomatoes, zucchini, and red wine and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
Now add the chard or spinach, stock, and beans. Put the dried pasta into a plastic bag, squeeze all the air out, and tie the end up. Bash gently with a rolling pin to break the pasta into pieces. Snip the end off the bag and empty the contents into the soup. Stir and continue to simmer until the pasta is cooked.
If you think the soup is looking too thick, add a little more stock or some of the reserved cooking water to thin it down a bit. Then taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with the torn-up basil leaves and with some extra virgin olive oil drizzled over the top. Put a block of Parmesan and a grater on the table for everyone to help themselves. Heaven!
7 oz cannellini or borlotti beans, fresh, or dried and soaked overnight
1 bay leaf
1 tomato, squashed
1 small potato, peeled
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices smoked pancetta or bacon, chopped
2 small red onions, peeled and finely
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and chopped
1/2 a head of fennel, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
a small bunch of fresh basil, leaves and
2 14-oz cans of good-quality plum tomatoes
2 small zucchini, quartered and sliced
a glass of red wine
1/2 lb Swiss chard or spinach, washed and
roughly sliced (including stalks)
2 cups chicken, ham, or vegetable stock
2 oz dried pasta
extra virgin olive oil
a block of Parmesan cheese, to serve