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Tastes like a big bowl of summer

Minestrone rule No. 1: There are no rules. What's in the garden is fair game. The brighter and livelier the better.

August 08, 2007|Betty Hallock and Donna Deane | Times Staff Writers

THE big soup -- it's minestrone. That's literally what it means. And it's not just the big soup, but the big summer soup, because of all the fantastic vegetables you can get at the markets or from your own garden right now: juicy tomatoes, sweet corn, yellow wax beans, green beans, summer squash, fresh lima beans.

Put them all together with a delicious broth -- maybe some of those peak-season tomatoes grated into a lusty chicken broth -- and you have minestrone, robust vegetable soup, like a big bowl of summer. There are a zillion (OK, that might be an exaggeration, but not much of one) variations, such as the one named "The Virtues" from the Abruzzo, so called because it conveys the story of seven virtuous women who each added something to the soup (some lovely marjoram or favas or a little diced prosciutto). Then there's the kind the Ligurians make with basil sauce stirred in. And what about a minestrone alla Pugliese -- made with turnip flowers, a pinch of chile powder, traditional Puglian pasta like cavatelli or tortiglioni and freshly grated Romano cheese.

The point is, minestrone lends itself to spontaneity and adaptation -- just the approach that makes sense during the season's cavalcade of vegetables and herbs.

A bright green swirl of parsley pistou -- a blend of lively parsley, lots of garlic, good olive oil, and salt and pepper -- dresses a minestrone of summer squash and tomatoes. The light broth (summer versions of minestrone tend to have lighter broths) is vegetarian. Sautéed onions and fennel and garlic make an amazing flavor base. And the rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano (never again throw those rinds away) dropped into the broth while it's simmering gives the soup substance, infusing it with a salty, nutty flavor. Add cooked tubetti, small tubes of pasta, just before serving.

Or add the delicious touch of your own fresh pasta to a minestrone made with that chicken broth enriched by grated tomatoes (cut tomatoes in half and rub the flesh against the large holes of a box grater, flattening them with the palm of your hand as you go; stop when you've reached the peel). Add yellow wax beans, corn cut from the cob, zucchini and fresh lima beans. Cut the just-made noodles into small pieces and add to the broth during the last minutes of cooking; the homemade pasta is tender and delicate and light. Finally, a Tuscan-influenced minestrone combines cannellini beans along with small potatoes, rosemary, zucchini and tomato. Garnish it with strips of basil, fresh from the garden.

Fresh basil, tender pasta, a not-too-heavy broth -- these details make for summer minestrone -- light touches for big soup.

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betty.hallock@latimes.com

donna.deane@latimes.com

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Tuscan minestrone

Total time: About 1 hour, 30 minutes, plus soaking time for the beans

Servings: 6 to 8

Note: From Donna Deane

8 ounces dried cannellini beans (about 11/4 cups)

1 tablespoon olive oil plus olive oil for drizzling

1/2 cup finely chopped onions

1/2 cup finely chopped carrots

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

1 clove garlic, minced

8 cups chicken broth

1 (4-inch) sprig rosemary

About 12 fingerling potatoes or small Yukon gold potatoes, 3/4-inch diced (about 1 cup)

2 to 3 small zucchini, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 3 cups)

1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 1 cup)

Salt, pepper

3 tablespoons finely sliced basil strips

1. Bring 1 quart of water to boil. Place the cannellini beans in a medium bowl, and pour the boiling water over them to cover. Allow the beans to stand one hour, then drain. Set aside.

2. In a large saucepot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-low heat. Stir in the onions, carrots and celery and sauté until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and sauté just until fragrant but not browned, about 30 seconds.

3. Stir in the chicken broth along with the drained beans and the sprig of rosemary. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 45 minutes.

4. Stir in the potatoes, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the zucchini and tomato, cover and continue to simmer 10 more minutes.

5. Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle each serving with fresh basil and a light drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately.

Each serving: 160 calories; 10 grams protein; 25 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams fiber; 2 grams fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 409 mg. sodium.

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Summer minestrone with parsley pistou

Total time: About 1 hour, 40 minutes

Servings: 6 to 8

Note: From test kitchen director Donna Deane. Save the rinds from Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to add to the soup pot. It gives added flavor and substance to this vegetarian soup.

3/4 cup olive oil, divided

1 medium onion, diced into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)

1 bulb fennel, cored and cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips

6 cloves minced garlic, divided

2 large tomatoes, cored, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 (2-inch) pieces Parmigiano-Reggiano rind

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