serves: Makes about 4 quarts
Every region of Italy has its version of minestrone vegetable soup. The Italian American version seems to always have diced carrots, celery, potatoes, beans, and cabbage, rendering it distinct, with a touch of sour after taste. Variations include vegetables that were readily available in the small gardens Italian immigrants kept in their backyards or window boxes. Italian Americans loved their minestrone so much that in 1949, Progresso Quality Foods began selling minestrone, as well as pasta e fagioli, in cans as a convenience food. At first the soup was only available in Italian American markets, but soon enough it hit mainstream America.
1 cup dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight and drained
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 ounces pancetta or bacon, cut into pieces
4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks (12 ounces)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
6 quarts water
2 fresh bay leaves
1 large carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 small head Savoy cabbage, cored and shredded (about 8 cups)
1 bunch Swiss chard, shredded
2 tablespoons salt
8 ounces ditalini
In a food processor, combine pancetta, garlic and 2 tablespoons olive oil and pulse to make a fine-textured paste or ‘pestata’. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil is hot, scrape in the pestata. Cook, stirring, until pestata renders its fat, about 4 minutes.
Add the onion, and cook until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Toss in the potatoes, and cook until they begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, another 3 minutes. Push aside the vegetables to make a dry “hot spot” in the center of the pan, and plop the tomato paste into the space, toasting it on all sides for a minute or two. Return the vegetables to the center of the pan, and stir the toasted paste into them. Pour in the water, along with the bay leaves, carrot, celery, and soaked cannellini. Bring to a rapid simmer and cook until beans are almost tender, about 40 minutes. Add the zucchini, cabbage, chard and salt. Cover and cook until beans and vegetables are tender and soup is flavorful, about 45 minutes more.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the ditalini al dente. Just before serving, scoop up the ditalini and add to the soup.