I'm not a vegetarian, but I frequently cook for vegetarian friends. I have been told that the minestrone which I have modified from a NY Times recipe is the best ever. I can't take full credit for this recipe in that it originated elsewhere...but I've modified it significantly, and think I've made it better. Give it a try, and let's hear what you think. It's strictly vegetarian, but can be made vegan by leaving out the parmesan rind in the cooking, and the parmesan garnish when serving. Enjoy!
Lentil, Celery and Tomato Minestrone
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2-3 medium carrots, diced
4 celery stalks diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz. can of chopped tomatoes, with liquid
6-7 cups water
1 bouquet garni made with 2-3 sprigs each thyme and parsley, a bay leaf, and a Parmesan rind.
1½ cups French green lentils, rinsed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
Dried herbs to taste (oregano, thyme, basil, etc.)
1 15 oz. can of cannellini beans, rinsed
Freshly chopped parsley, for garnish
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Sriracha chili sauce, to taste (optional)
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat and add the onions, carrot and celery. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir together until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the canned tomatoes with their liquid. Bring to a simmer and cook together for about 10 minutes.
Add 6 cups of water, the bouquet garni, the lentils and the tomato paste. Stir all together and bring to a boil. Season liberally with salt and pepper to taste and reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Add additional water as necessary during simmer to get consistency you like. After about 1 hour, taste to see if lentils and vegetables are cooked and simmer longer if needed. Adjust seasonings at this time…salt and pepper, and add dried herbs to taste. The soup may be overly bland to some at this point. If so, use the herbs and pepper very liberally. Add cannellini beans and heat through for an additional 15 minutes or so to blend the flavors.
Serve hot with chopped parsley for garnish, and Parmesan cheese to taste. For those who like a bit of extra spice (like me), a squirt of Asian sriracha chili sauce is a welcome addition.
Serves 6 - 8
It's a pain to carefully dice all of the vegetables, but it makes the soup far more elegant than if they are all chopped or grated in a food processor. If you take the time to do so (which I strongly advise), be sure not to overcook the vegetables...you want them to maintain their shape and have just a touch of crunch. BTW, the soup freezes very well, so leftovers can be served at a later date.