Minestrone à la française

Minestrone, French style

Why French style? Because I made this soup one summer’s day using ingredients I had on hand in my Paris kitchen, which made it similar but not identical to a classic Italian minestrone. For example, I used split peas instead of borlotti beans and skipped the pasta and rice altogether. I also used a little bacon, whereas Italians might use pancetta. But that is optional, as this soup may be made in a vegetarian/vegan version as well.

The veggies I used are carrots, zucchini, finocchio, red onion and garlic. But this list is infinitely variable. You could also use spinach, potato, celery, leeks, butternut, peas, green beans, etc. etc., in whatever combination appeals. The soup base can be either water or, for more depth of flavor, homemade broth — veggie broth or chicken broth. The soup may be topped with grated parmesan and fresh basil.

The quantities below will make 4 servings. If using broth, it should be be prepared in advance, as should the split peas. If using veggies other than those specified below, aim for about 1/2 cup to 1 cup of each (1 cup = about 25 cl).

4 cups homemade chicken broth, vegetable broth, water or a combination
1/2 cup (120 g) dried split peas
4 cups (1 liter) water
1/2 tsp. sea salt or regular salt
1 red onion
3 cloves garlic
1 large or 2 medium carrots
1 zucchini (courgette)
1 finocchio bulb
2 strips bacon (optional)

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. sea salt or regular salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 branch fresh thyme or 1 tsp. herbes de Provence
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (optional)
fresh basil leaves for garnish

Have the broth ready before you begin. Then start by cooking the split peas. Bring 4 cups (1 liter) of water to a boil. Add the spit peas and cook at a simmer until just al dente. This can take 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on how old the split peas are. Turn off the heat, add 1/2 tsp. salt, stir and allow the peas to cool. Drain and set aside.

Peel and mince the red onion and garlic. Set aside.

Peel and dice the carrots. Dice the zucchini. Chop the finocchio. Set aside.

If using bacon, slice the strips into square pieces. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil to sizzling in a soup pot. Add the red onion and garlic and sauté, stirring, until the onion is starting to wilt, about 1 minute.

If using bacon, add it now. Sauté for 1 minute more, stirring.

Add the chopped veggies and sauté for 5 minutes more, stirring.

Add the broth or water. Add 1 tsp. salt (or less if your broth is already salty) and grind on some black pepper. Add the thyme branch or herbs. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the veggies are almost tender, about 20 minutes.

Now add the split peas and simmer for 5 minutes more.

While the soup is cooking, grate the parmesan and chop up some basil leaves.

Serve the soup in individual bowls, garnished with a sprinkle of parmesan and chopped basil. Bring the rest of the parmesan to the table. Serves 4.

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