When I was a child, and was regularly asked "what's your favourite meal?" (when such questions were deeply important), my answer would always be minestrone. My mother made it often in our house and when I left home I adapted it to suit my somewhat lazier cooking style. Instead of soaking beans overnight and frying them off with the bacon at the beginning of the cooking process, I add some pre-cooked beans at the end. Instead of homemade stock, I'm happy with store-bought. And with making a big pot and then freezing it in single serve portions for my time of need. That time is now. My freezer is full. Which means it's all going to be okay.
Adapted from my memory of my mum's
This soup is infinitely adaptable to whatever vegetables you have lying around in the fridge and need to use up. My mainstays are carrot and zucchini, but I've also made it with celery and fennel and I'm sure a bit of capsicum or eggplant or even pumpkin, sweet potato - or for that matter regular potato - thrown in would only add to the flavour.
splash or two of olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2-3 rashers bacon, trimmed of fat and chopped into small pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
1 400g can tomatoes
pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
freshly ground black pepper
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 medium zucchini, diced
2 litres chicken stock
1 400g can cannellini beans, drained
dried pasta (I like macaroni or small shells)
grated parmesan, to serve
Heat the olive oil in a large casserole or pot. Add the bacon and onion and fry for 10 minutes, til the onion is softened and the bacon's fat is nice and sizzling. Add the garlic and cook five minutes more, before adding the can of tomatoes. Break up the chunks with your wooden spoon so that there are no large pieces and the sauce is relatively smooth. Add a pinch of sugar, a few grinds of black pepper and a sprinkling of dried oregano, or whatever fresh herbs you have to hand (parsely, oregano and marjoram are good). Let the sauce cook on a low heat for 2-30 minutes, until it's nice and thick and somewhat reduced.
Add the carrots and zucchini and stir to combine before pouring in the stock and giving everything a stir. Bring the soup to the boil, then reduce temperature to low and cook until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the drained beans.
If you're making this for the freezer, then at this point, turn the heat off and ladle servings of soup into your containers. Once they're completely cooled, then they're okay to freeze. When you reheat, just bring to a boil, then add dried pasta and cook according to the directions on the packet.
But, if you're making this to feed people for dinner tonight, keep the heat on, add the pasta and cook for however many minutes it says on the packet you're using. Ladle into bowls and top with parmesan cheese.