Minestrone means “big soup.” Big, thick vegetable soup, sometimes laced with just a bit of meat, whose origin goes back to seaside towns in Italy where it was sold out of small boats to sailors returning from the sea. Minestrone is also a fun soup because you can add whatever vegetables or beans you like. With just a little prep you can have a pot of soup simmering in less than an hour. Perfect for a winter Saturday afternoon.Saturday Afternoon Minestrone Soup
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus more as needed)1 ½ cups chopped celery1 ½ cups chopped carrots1 ½ cups chopped onion2 potatoes (1 lb.), peeled and cut into bite- sized pieces4 to 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped4 cups shredded cabbage (slaw mix will do)1 medium zucchini (½ lb.), chopped3 quarts chicken broth1 - 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice1 - 15 oz. can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained1 - 15 oz. can pinto (or cannellini) beans, rinsed and drained, divided1 cup tiny pasta (such as ditalini or elbow macaroni)2/3 cup chopped cooked baconSalt and pepper to tasteParmesan cheese, fresh basil leaves or pesto for servingHeat olive oil in a large heave pot over medium heat. Add celery, carrots and cook (and stir) for 10 minutes or so. Add onion, potatoes, garlic, cabbage and zucchini and continue to cook for another 10 minutes or so. Stir often and add a bit more olive oil while cooking.Meanwhile, place ½ cup of the chicken broth and ½ cup of drained pinto beans in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Set aside.Raise heat to medium-high and add tomatoes (with juice), remaining chicken broth, kidney beans and remaining pinto beans. Stir in pureed bean mixture. Bring mixture to a boil then lower to a simmer. Add pasta and bacon, cover and simmer for a half hour, stirring occasionally. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Continue to simmer, covered, until ready to serve.Ladle this hearty, delicious soup into bowls and top with grated Parmesan and a sprinkle of fresh torn basil. You may also serve minestrone with a small dollop of pesto, which is the traditional choice of some of those seaside towns in Italy.