Back in the day (the way-back day) when I was in college, I had a brief love affair with minestrone soup. I can’t remember my mom ever making it at home, nor do I remember having it from a can at any point, so I had already spent about 20 years on this earth without minestrone being on my radar. Enter night class. One particular semester I had a night class in a building that was on the outskirts of campus. (As outskirted as you could be up on the bluff!) I would always wander over to Fisher Hall a little early and stop at the little cafe that was nestled in the bottom floor of the building to grab something to eat before class. On a particularly chilly night when I was craving something warm I decided to try the minestrone soup. Not being a vegetable lover, I was shocked at how much I adored that little bowl of soup. I loved the warmth, the heartiness, the beans, and it made me feel at home. From that night on, the minestrone soup was my Monday night ritual before class, and I loved it each and every time. I haven’t eaten it much since college, but always think about how I need to wrangle a recipe that I love, and I’ve finally done so. And it’s every bit as wonderful as I remembered.
This is one of the simplest soups I have ever made, but it does contain one key ingredient – a piece of Parmesan cheese rind. The rind simmers away with the soup and helps to create more of a stock, with an intensified and more developed flavor than if you leave it out. I highly recommend not skipping this!
One of the best things about this recipe is that it is easily customizable to suit your tastes (and what’s currently in your refrigerator). Mix and match flavors, different vegetables, and even types of beans. Want to use kale instead of spinach? Go for it! This is a great formula for a completely customizable vegetable and bean soup.
Bring the leeks, carrots, onion, celery, potato, zucchini, spinach, tomatoes, water, cheese rind, and salt to a boil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender but still hold their shape, about 1 hour. Remove and discard the cheese rind.
Add the beans and cook just until heated through, about 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the pesto. Adjust the seasonings, adding pepper and more salt, if necessary. Serve immediately.