Vegetable Soup Minestrone

Serves 4

8 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion chopped
A good 250g (9 oz) prosciutto scraps
1.7 litres (3 pints) water
A total of 1.5kg (3 lb 5 oz) vegetables, made up of all of the following: carrots, celery, courgettes, cauliflower, potatoes, fresh peas, beetroot, garlic, leeks, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, marrow
1 x 400g (14 oz) can borlotti beans, drained and rinsed (if you can find fresh, so much the better)
2 small tomatoes, skinned and chopped
115g (4 oz) tubettini pasta, fregola (a type of small-grained couscous from Sardinia), or rice
Salt and pepper to taste

To Serve
A handful of fresh basil leaves
4 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan

The name of this famous soup derives from “minestra” meaning “soup”.  (In many parts of Italy minestra means “green”).  It is found all over the country, and all the regions have their own variations, suffixed alla milanese, alla Genovese, alla piemontese etc.

Normally the soup is prepared with leftover vegetables, so to detail precise ingredients seems a little dictatorial to me!  The listing should give you an idea.  What is important, though, is to use some Parma ham, the flavour of which is essential to the success of any minestrone.  You can ask for bits and pieces of prosciutto from your Italian grocer or delicatessen: for example, the skin, the pieces cut from around the bone, and the tail-end piece.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan.  First fry the onion, then add the prosciutto pieces and the water, and let this simmer for an hour.  Meanwhile, clean the vegetables as appropriate, then chop into cubes.

Discard the prosciutto pieces and add the vegetables to the pan, along with the drained beans and continue to simmer.  Add the tomatoes after a further 20 minutes.  Cook for at least a further 30 minutes, after which time you should taste to see that all the vegetables are cooked, particulary the carrots.  About 20 minutes or so before the dish is finished, add the pasta (or alternative), and cook until al dente.

Serve piping hot, sprinkled with basil and Parmesan.  Minestone is also delicious cold.