MINESTRONE, VEGETARIAN OR WITH PORK

by - 5:30 AM

A vegetable soup for Italians is something more than the basic pasta e fagioli recipe:
the vegetables will be chosen to follow the seasons, and hence the soup will be
different every time you make it; for example, asparagus soups are best in the
spring, and soups with broccoli best in the winter. This is a basic recipe, but do feel
free to substitute your favorite vegetables.
MAKES ABOUT 2 QUARTS, SERVING 8
1 cup dried cannellini, kidney, or Great Northern beans, or chickpeas
About 1½ pounds smoked pork shoulder butt, in 1 piece (optional)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1½ cups)
Salt, preferably sea salt
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
One 14-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
2 fresh bay leaves, or 3 dried
1 large Idaho potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice (about 1½ cups)
1 cup ¼-inch slices peeled carrots
½ cup ¼-inch slices peeled celery, with leaves
4 cups shredded green cabbage (1 medium-size cabbage head)
5 quarts hot water
2 small zucchini, trimmed and cut into ½-inch dice (about 1½ cups)
¾ cup ditalini or other small pasta shape, such as tubettini
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Fast-soak the dried beans: Place them in a large saucepan of cold water. Bring to a boil,
add the smoked pork if using, cover the pot, and remove it from the heat. Let stand 1
hour.
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onion, season it
lightly with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 4 minutes. Add the
garlic, and continue cooking until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes.
Use your hands to coarsely crush the tomatoes. Add the crushed tomatoes and their
liquid, the hot red pepper, and bay leaves to the pot, and bring to a boil. Add the
potato, carrots, and celery, bring to a boil, and cook 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt,
then stir in the cabbage and let simmer for 5 minutes.
Pour the hot water into the pot and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to a gentle boil
and cook for 20 minutes. Drain the beans and pork and add them to the pot, tucking the
pork into the vegetables so it is completely submerged. Bring the soup to a rolling boil,
adjust the heat to a simmer, and cook, covered, until the beans are tender, about 1½
hours. Add the zucchini and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Remove the pork from
the soup, and let stand on a cutting board. Stir the pasta into the soup and cook, stirring
occasionally, until al dente—tender but firm—about 8 minutes.
Taste the soup, seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Let rest off the heat for 5
minutes. While the soup is resting, cut the pork into ½-inch slices and tent them with
aluminum foil to keep them warm. When ready to serve, lay a slice of smoked pork in
the bottom of each warm soup bowl and ladle the soup over it. Sprinkle with grated
cheese and serve.

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