If you had to name one soup from Italy, minestrone would be it. A richly-flavoured collection of beans and vegetables in a tomatoey base, minestrone soup makes a wonderful, filling and nutritious lunch or supper. And it's very easy to make.
To make the minestrone soup base
Peel and coarsely chop the onion. Heat the olive oil on medium heat and cook the onions in it until they are soft and slightly transparent but not coloured. While you are doing this, add the tomatoes to a large saucepan and break them up into small pieces. Bring to the boil and add the stock, bay leaf, thyme, pepper and the basil leaves torn into small pieces (save a couple of whole leaves for garnish). Bring back to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. When the onion is cooked, add that and the oil it was cooked in to the soup base.
Blend the minestrone soup base
Throw the contents of the large pan into a blender, and whizz until smooth.
Cook the beans
If you are using pre-cooked beans from a can, you can skip this step. Drain your soaked beans and add them to the soup base. If you have a pressure cooker, you can cook it for about 30 minutes (depending on the freshness and size of your beans, it may take a bit longer) until the beans are tender. If you don't have a pressure cooker, it may take 1-2 hours of simmering for the beans to be cooked.
Prepare the vegetables for the minestrone soup
Peel the potato and carrot and cut them into dice. Cut the celery into small pieces, and shred the cabbage. Pour a generous glug of olive oil into the frying pan, and heat it on medium. Add the vegetables and stir to get them all coated in oil, then place a lid on the pan and reduce the heat to low. The idea here is to sweat the vegetables for about 10-15 minutes until they are just beginning to soften.
Finish making the minestrone soup
When the beans are cooked, taste the soup base and add salt if required. If the base is too thick, you can also add more stock or water. Stir in the sweated vegetables and simmer for another 20-30 minutes until the veggies are cooked.
To serve your home-made minestrone soup
Pour soup into bowl, garnish with a basil leaf and accompany with some crusty bread and a glass of full-bodied red wine.