Autumn Minestrone Soup is a collection of autumn’s finest. Super ripe tomatoes, green beans, garlic, onion, swiss chard and cranberry beans combine with basil and thyme to create a sustaining soup that celebrates the best of the farmers market during the fall season.
Shopping at the farmers market, particularly these days when everything looks so colorful and tempting, can be overwhelming. You arrive home with bags full of vegetables then question what to do next. If you do not have a plan, you could end up tossing it out at the end of the week, which is devastating. Worst case, it could also impact your decision to go to the farmers market the next week.
Learning how to make soup is perhaps the most useful strategy for clearing out your vegetable drawer at any time of year, but particularly now when the farmers market is still at its peak and most alluring.
Minestrone Soup is a classic Italian vegetable soup eaten hot, warm or at room temperature, depending on your mood and the day. Romans have been preparing Minestrone Soup since ancient times to make use of leftover vegetables and grains. Today, Italians make Minestrone Soup throughout the year to feature seasonal vegetables but particularly in the fall when Borlotti beans are in season.
Borlotti, more commonly known in the U.S. as Cranberry or October beans, can be found at farmers markets in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, sometimes already shelled but, if so, they are usually tucked away a bit. However, if they are still in their pod, their spectacular bright pink and white pods are hard to miss. They are almost glamorous….especially in contrast to the humble beans they contain that sadly lose their pink hue once cooked.
I was surprised how easy it is to prepare fresh beans as, unlike dried beans that need to be soaked overnight, fresh beans need no preparation (other than possibly shelling, which is quick and easy). After 30 minutes simmering in a pot of water with a halved garlic head and a bay leaf, I have a pot full of soft beans with a delicate earthy flavor that is completely lost once they are canned. Also unlike canned beans, they hold their shape, but easily relent to the press of a fork. They are wonderful served alone in a bowl with an extra drizzle of olive oil but their addition to Minestrone Soup is a Italian tradition.
Adding pasta also is traditional, usually ditatlini or small shells, as are potatoes. The starch from any of these additions will help thicken the soup and provide heft…making it hardy enough for a meal.
A drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of parmesan cheese complete this Autumn Minestrone Soup and helps make this simple dish look almost elegant. Brimming with vegetables and easily accomodating, Autumn Minestrone Soup celebrates the season beautifully.
- 1½ lbs. fresh cranberry/October/Borlotti beans, about 2 cups shelled beans (OR 2 14.5-oz cans pinto, kidney or white beans, drained and rinsed.)
- 1 small head garlic, sliced in half, separating top and bottom. Rinse the bottom half with the root to remove any grit. Remove any loose outer leaves.
- 1 bay leaf
- 2-4 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
- 2 celery spears, chopped
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
- 2 zucchini, chopped into ½-inch cubes
- 2 cups green beans (about ½ lb.), chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 1 cup red or other thin-skinned potatoes, chopped (optional)
- 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 2 cups water (preferably filtered)
- *Parmesan rind, if you have one (optional.)
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped (OR 1 Tablespoon dried basil)
- 4 sprigs thyme (OR 2 teaspoons dried thyme)
- 4 large swiss chard leaves (about 1½ cups), spinach (not baby) or dinosaur kale, cores removed and chopped
- ½ cup cooked pasta, ditalini or small shells. (optional) Save 1 cup of cooking liquid to add to soup, if desired.
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus more, to taste **
- 5-6 grinds black pepper
- Grated parmesan cheese, for serving
- Heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat, add onions, carrots, celery, zucchini. Sauté over medium-low heat and cover until softened and vegetables exude their juices, about 7-10 minutes. Check under lid occasionally to make sure they are gently simmering, not vigorously boiling.
- Remove lid and add broth, tomatoes, green beans, thyme sprigs, Borlotti beans, garlic halves, bay leaf and/or dried seasonings, if using. Add additional water to completely cover the vegetables.
- Bring to a boil then simmer over medium heat (soup should bubble slowly and gently) until vegetables are cooked to desired consistency and beans are soft. (less time and vegetables will be well formed and soup broth thinner, cook longer and vegetables dissolve but broth will be slightly thicker.)
- About 10 minutes prior to serving, stir in canned beans (if using), and swiss chard leaves, simmer until greens are softened and beans are warmed through.
- Remove garlic halves, thyme stems and bay leaf, discard.
- Add chopped basil and stir through the soup, saving a small handful of chopped leaves to top soup bowls before serving.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you would like more broth, add some of the reserved pasta water.
- To serve, ladle into a bowl then add cooked pasta, if using, an extra drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of basil leaves and grated parmesan cheese.
*Parmesan rind is the end of a piece of Parmesan cheese when bought whole. It is worthwhile to buy a wedge of Parmesan just for this soup. Grate the cheese to serve on the side and put the rind into the broth to simmer.
**Beans cook best with less salt. Season the soup generously with salt after the beans are cooked through.