We are now halfway through the heat of the summer, and I’m happy to say that our vegetable garden is flourishing. Here in central Italy, July has been breaking records for high temperatures, with day after day close to one hundred degrees. When it is this hot, I try to avoid having to stand over a hot stove too long, and try and prepare meals first thing in the morning when the temperatures are cooler. I also like to prepare meals that we can enjoy for dinner one night and then lunch the next using up much of our garden bounty. I have never been a fan of cold soups, despite how warm the temperatures might be. Instead, in the summer, I usually prefer my soups at room temperature. I like to serve my room temperature soup with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a crackling of black pepper, a dollop of garden fresh pesto, or some freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
I learned to appreciate room temperature minestrone, or vegetable soups when we lived in Milan. One of the local restaurants we often frequented thickened their summer minestrone with rice and left the soup to sit on the counter at room temperature until a customer ordered it. The soup was prepared with seasonal vegetables cooked until they were soft, and it was served simply with some very flavorful extra virgin olive oil. I loved this soup and would often order it as I was amazed at how much more flavorful a vegetable soup was when served at room temperature rather than piping hot. This type of soup is very satisfying on even the warmest days. After a bowl of soup packed full of fresh, seasonal vegetables, all I need to complete my meal is a light entree or even a salad and a couple of slices of warm, crusty Italian bread.
I make minestrone year round, using the freshest seasonal vegetables available to me. I never usually use a recipe, but simply gather my vegetables, cut them into equal sized pieces and place them in a stock pot. I then cover the vegetables by an inch or two of water (you do not need broth as the veggies create their own), and then gently simmer until soft. You can thicken your soup with any grain, or even bread, and the addition of beans create an entire complete meal in a bowl. For this particular soup, I used zucchini, onions, celery, Tuscan black cabbage, garlic, and fresh borlotti beans from my garden. I added carrots, and two cans of cherry tomatoes because our garden tomatoes had not yet ripened, and a handful of fresh herbs from my herb garden. To add body and create a soup that would be hearty enough to serve as a main course, I also added some cooked farro. I cooked my borlotti beans separately to ensure everything was properly cooked at the same time and added my cooked farro at the end. In place of farro you could use rice, barely, or even pasta if you prefer, and if fresh shelling beans are not available, you could substitute with canned beans. Also, if you have very ripe cherry tomatoes on hand, they would be wonderful in place of the canned ones I used. I served my soup at room temperature topped with some grated Pecorino Romano cheese and cracked black pepper but feel free to use whatever toppings you prefer.
Farro should be cooked just until it is tender to the bite, but it should still be fairly firm. Nothing is worse than overcooked, mushy farro. To cook your farro, simply bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and then drop in your farro and cook until tender, or “al dente”. I often used pearled farro in my salads, which cooks quicker than regular farro, taking just about 15 minutes to cook. Just check your package directions as cooking time will depend on the variety of farro you choose. To cook the fresh beans, place beans in a pot. Add cold water to cover by 1″. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered and adding water by 1/4-cupfuls as needed to keep beans submerged, until tender, about 35–45 minutes. Drain, and set aside until needed.
Deborah Mele 2015
Summer Garden Minestrone With Fresh Borlotti Beans & Farro
- 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 2 Small Onions, Peeled & Diced
- 4 Medium Carrots, Diced
- 4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
- 4 Stalks Celery (Including Leaves), Diced
- 2 Medium Zucchini, Diced
- 1 Large Bunch, About 4 Cups, Chopped Tuscan Cabbage (Or Other Greens Such As Spinach, Swiss Chard, etc)
- 2 Cans (14 Ounce) Cherry Tomatoes, or About 4 Cups Fresh Ripe Tomatoes, Halved
- 1 Handful Fresh Herbs, Such As Parsley, Basil, Oregano, Chopped
- Salt & Pepper
- 1 Pound Fresh Shelling Beans, Cooked Until Just Tender (Or Equal Amount Canned Beans, Drained) – See Notes Above
- 2 Cups Cooked Farro (See Notes Above)
- Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
- Cracked Black Pepper
- In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil until lightly smoking over medium heat, then add the onions, carrots, garlic, and celery.
- Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, then add the zucchini, cabbage, cherry tomatoes, and fresh chopped herbs.
- Season with salt and pepper, then cover the vegetables with water by at least two inches.
- Bring mixture to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes.
- Add the cooked beans, farro, adding additional water as needed, then cook for another 10 minutes to meld the flavors.
- Taste soup, and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
- Allow soup to sit until cooled to room temperature before serving.
- Serve in individual bowls, topped with grated cheese and cracked black pepper.