The Bistro’s Beefy Minestrone

Italian Soup
The Bistro’s Beefy Minestrone

I spent some time in Italy this fall and, of course, now I am totally motivated to do more Italian-inspired cooking like this minestrone soup, for example.  It’s very easy to get inspired when traveling to beautiful parts of the world, especially those known for fine cuisine and wines!

Cinque Terre
Manarola, Italy

Vineyards were busy as the grape harvesting was on when we were in Italy. The one in the photo below was near Manarola in Cinque Terre (Liguria Region)  on the rugged Italian Rivieria. Those are terraced vineyards you see in the background in the photo above and a close up of one in the photo below as harvesters collect the grapes for winemaking.

Grape Harvesting
Harvesting Grapes near Manarola, Italy

And, of course, I always check out the local farmers markets, like the one below in Venice, when I travel.

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And, I can never pass up colorful Italian pasta or good quality olive oil!

Pasta
Italian Pasta (Venice, Italy)

But, alas, I am back home in my Prince Edward Island kitchen with lots of ideas for Italian-inspired dishes.  I have actually been making this minestrone soup for many years, tweaking and adjusting it until it reached my satisfaction. In fact, it is a staple in my freezer – I freeze portion-sized servings and then take them to work for weekday lunches. Served with a homemade biscuit, crusty roll, or garlic bread, this is a filling soup.

Minestrone
The Bistro’s Beefy Minestrone

Minestrone is what I call the “kitchen sink of soups” because many different ingredients can be included in the soup, almost everything but the kitchen sink! It’s often called “the big soup” for a reason and that is because it contains lots of ingredients. This is a vegetable-type soup that, no matter the recipe, will contain common ingredients like beans, onions, tomatoes, a variety of vegetables, and some kind of pasta.  Other ingredients, such as meat, can be added as well to make it a more hearty meal.  Pretty much any vegetables you like can be added to the soup but you will generally find carrots, peas, string beans, tomatoes, and zucchini in most minestrone soups. There is no fixed recipe as such for minestrone and ingredients vary according to the regions of Italy and what is in season and available at the time the soup is made. There are as many versions of this soup as there are cooks! I have tasted minestrone in different restaurants and they all taste different but they all still go by the same name!

Minestrone
The Bistro’s Beefy Minestrone

This Mediterranean soup is cooked in a broth – beef, chicken, or vegetable stock may be used. Like many soups with vegetables, I find the broth needs some extra seasoning. I rely heavily on basil, oregano, and Italian seasoning for this soup and these are somewhat standard in most minestrone recipes. To further deepen the flavor, I also add a couple of tablespoons of my homemade basil pesto. You can find my pesto recipe by clicking here.

Pesto
Basil Pesto

What follows is my recipe for Beefy Minestrone (printable version of the recipe follows at end of posting).

The Bistro's Beefy Minestrone Soup
The Bistro’s Beefy Minestrone Soup

The Bistro’s Beefy Minestrone

Ingredients:
 
330g (¾ lb) stew beef, cut into small ¼” – ½” bite-size cubes
2 tbsp cooking oil
2/3 cup onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp fresh fennel, very finely chopped (optional but good)
½ cup celery, chopped
2/3 cup carrots, sliced thinly

1 – 796 ml (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 – 284 ml (apx. 10 oz) can tomato soup
2 tbsp tomato paste
6 cups stock (beef, chicken, or vegetable)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1½ tsp fresh lemon juice
1½ tsp brown sugar
1¾ tsp dried basil
1¾ tsp dried oregano
1 tsp Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper, to taste

½ cup green or yellow string beans (fresh or frozen), cut into 1”–1½ “ inch pieces
1 – 540 ml can (apx. 18 oz) six-bean medley or red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
160 g (apx. 1¼ cups) zucchini, diced
1 cup uncooked elbow pasta
1½ cups frozen peas

1-2 tbsp basil pesto

Olive oil for drizzling (optional)

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Method:

In large stock pot, brown beef cubes in oil over medium heat for 2-3 minutes.  Add onion, garlic, fennel, celery, and carrots.  Cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding a small amount of additional oil, if necessary.

Add the next 11 ingredients. Cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook slowly for about 12-15 minutes.  Add the string beans.  Simmer for 5-7 minutes.

Stir in the six-bean medley (or red kidney beans), zucchini, elbow pasta, and frozen peas. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for about 7-10 minutes, or until pasta is just fork tender.

Remove soup from heat and stir in the basil pesto.  Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with either a drizzle of olive oil or grated Parmesan cheese.

Yield: Apx. 12, one-cup servings

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Minestrone
The Bistro’s Beefy Minestrone

The Bistro’s Beefy Minestrone

Yield: Apx 12, one-cup servings

An Italian-inspired hearty minestrone soup with beef and a variety of tasty and healthy vegetables and pasta cooked in a broth flavored with basil and oregano

Ingredients

  • 330g (¾ lb) stew beef, cut into small ¼” – ½” bite-size cubes
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil
  • 2/3 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh fennel, very finely chopped (optional but good)
  • ½ cup celery, chopped
  • 2/3 cup carrots, sliced thinly
  • 1 – 796 ml (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 – 284 ml (apx. 10 oz) can tomato soup
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 6 cups stock (beef, chicken, or vegetable)
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1½ tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1½ tsp brown sugar
  • 1¾ tsp dried basil
  • 1¾ tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ½ cup green or yellow string beans (fresh or frozen), cut into 1” – 1½ “ inch pieces
  • 1 – 540 ml can (apx. 18 oz) six-bean medley or red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 160 g (apx. 1¼ cups) zucchini, diced
  • 1 cup uncooked elbow pasta
  • 1½ cups frozen peas
  • 1-2 tbsp basil pesto
  • Olive oil for drizzling
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. In large stock pot, brown beef cubes in oil over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add onion, garlic, fennel, celery, and carrots. Cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding a small amount of additional oil, if necessary.
  2. Add the next 11 ingredients. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook slowly for about 12-15 minutes. Add the string beans. Simmer for 5-7 minutes.
  3. Stir in the six-bean medley or red kidney beans, zucchini, elbow pasta, and frozen peas. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for about 7-10 minutes, or until pasta is just fork tender.
  4. Remove soup from heat and stir in the basil pesto. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with either a drizzle of olive oil or grated Parmesan cheese.
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Roasted Cream of Cauliflower Soup

Cauliflower Soup
Roasted Cream of Cauliflower Soup

One of my all-time favorite soups is made with the most unlikely vegetable – cauliflower. I first had this soup on a cold, rainy night in a small café in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, many years ago. We were looking for light fare and cauliflower was the soup of the day. I must admit, the thoughts of cauliflower in soup was not at all appealing to me but the menu was limited so this is what was ordered. What came to the table was, without a doubt, one of the most palate-pleasing soups I’ve ever had! Rich and creamy with a sprinkle of nutmeg on top and served with a multi-grain bread, this became a soup that I just had to figure out how to make on my own.  So I set about figuring out just what ingredients would have been used to enhance the somewhat blah cauliflower. My recipe is a good replica of that first cauliflower soup I so enjoyed.

Cauliflower Soup
Roasted Cream of Cauliflower Soup

Over the years, I’ve worked on my recipe for the soup. The first thing I do is roast the cauliflower that I sprinkle with nutmeg.  Of all the spices, I find nutmeg complements the cauliflower best. Roasting vegetables deepens their flavor and this, of course, contributes to the overall flavor of the soup. To make life simpler, rather than say the recipe calls for one head of cauliflower (which comes in different sizes), or x cups of florets, I’ve measured the exact weight of cauliflower my recipe takes for optimal results.  This measurement is taken after the main core stalk of the cauliflower has been removed and discarded. For roasting, I break off chunks of the florets instead of breaking off each individual floret.  The small florets would burn in the roasting process and there is a difference between roasting and burnt offerings! It’s important to stir and turn the cauliflower every 10-12 minutes as it roasts to prevent burning and to ensure even roasting of all sides of the florets.  I also find that loosely mashing the roasted cauliflower with a potato masher makes the vegetable easier to purée evenly.

I use a combination of leeks, onion, and garlic to flavor the soup. The addition of a small amount of fresh fennel does add a layer of flavor complexity to this soup but its addition is optional. When I am making this soup at a time when I have fresh fennel in the garden, I use it but I would not buy an expensive fennel bulb out of season for the small amount the recipe calls for.

The base for this soup is chicken stock. I use the liquid chicken bouillon concentrate to make the stock but homemade or canned/boxed stock can certainly be used.

Cool both the cauliflower and the soup mixture to room temperature before puréeing it. I recommend puréeing the mixture in small batches to ensure the mixture is very smooth and free of any lumps or chunks of cauliflower, leeks, or onions.

I also recommend the milk be at room temperature for about 20-30 minutes or so before blending it into the puréed cauliflower mixture to avoid the milk curdling. Use whole milk, not fat-reduced or skim, for this soup – it’s meant to be luxurious, velvety, and soothing to the palate. In fact, a small amount of cream can be substituted for part of the milk in the recipe. This soup freezes well (yes, it really does) but whole milk or a blend of milk/cream needs to be used when freezing cream-based soups successfully. Soups made with fat-reduced or skim milk do not freeze and reheat well as the ingredients tend to separate.

Once the milk is added (slowly) to the puréed mixture, it’s important not to boil it – all it needs is a slow, gentle heating to the point that the cheese will melt.  My recipe calls for a blend of three flavorful cheeses – cheddar, mozzarella, and parmesan.  I buy the bag of pre-shredded cheese with this mixture in it and these three cheeses do complement, not only each other well, but the cauliflower, too.  Stir the soup over low heat just until the cheeses have all melted and blended into the soup. Never boil this soup.

The soup may be served in small appetizer-sized portions for the soup course of a dinner or, in larger portions as a main meal for lunch or a light supper.  Serve this gorgeous-colored soup with homemade biscuits, crusty rolls, rustic or French bread.

Cream of Cauliflower Soup
Roasted Cream of Cauliflower Soup

Roasted Cream of Cauliflower Soup

Ingredients:

1¼ lb cauliflower florets, chopped into chunks of about 7-9 florets   (weighed after large core stalk removed)
2-3 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper

3 tbsp butter
2/3 cup sliced leeks (white and light green parts only)
1/3 cup onion, finely chopped
¾ oz fresh fennel, finely minced (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp flour

2¼ cups chicken stock
2 cups whole milk (at room temperature for 20-30 minutes)
Salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup shredded three-cheese blend (cheddar, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheeses)

Method:

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with tin foil and spray with cooking oil.

In large bowl, toss the cauliflower florets, oil, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.  Spread cauliflower in single layer on prepared baking sheet.  Roast for approximately 40-45 minutes or until cauliflower is very soft, stirring and turning the cauliflower every 10-12 minutes for even roasting.  Cool slightly.  Break florets into small pieces and mash loosely with a potato masher to break down the florets for easier puréeing.

In medium-sized stock pot, melt the butter.  Sauté the leeks, onion, fennel, and garlic over medium heat until leeks and fennel are softened (but not browned), about 7-8 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to blend. Slowly whisk in the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer 2-3 minutes or until mixture is thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.  Purée cooled mixture along with the cauliflower in small batches in food processor or blender until smooth.

Return puréed mixture to stockpot and, over medium-low heat, slowly stir or whisk in the milk.  Add salt and pepper to taste. When mixture is heated (do not boil), stir in 1 cup of three-cheese blend.  Heat, stirring constantly, just until cheese is melted (do not boil).

Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with roasted cauliflower florets.

Yield: 6-7 servings

Roasted Cream of Cauliflower Soup

Yield: 6-7 servings

A rich and velvety-textured cream-based soup made with roasted cauliflower and a blend of three cheeses.

Ingredients

  • 1¼ lb cauliflower florets, chopped into chunks of about 7-9 florets (weighed after large core stalk removed)
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2/3 cup sliced leeks (white and light green parts only)
  • 1/3 cup onion, finely chopped
  • ¾ oz fresh fennel, finely minced (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2¼ cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups whole milk (at room temperature for 20-30 minutes)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup shredded three-cheese blend (cheddar, mozzarella, and parmesan cheeses)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with tin foil and spray with cooking oil.
  3. In large bowl, toss the cauliflower florets, oil, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Spread cauliflower in single layer on prepared baking sheet. Roast for approximately 40-45 minutes or until cauliflower is very soft, stirring and turning the cauliflower every 10-12 minutes for even roasting. Cool slightly. Break florets into small pieces and mash loosely with a potato masher to break down the florets for easier puréeing.
  4. In medium-sized stock pot, melt the butter. Sauté the leeks, onion, fennel, and garlic over medium heat until leeks and fennel are softened (but not browned), about 7-8 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to blend. Slowly whisk in the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer 2-3 minutes or until mixture is thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Purée cooled mixture along with the cauliflower in small batches in food processor or blender until smooth.
  5. Return puréed mixture to stockpot and, over medium-low heat, slowly stir or whisk in the milk. Add salt and pepper to taste. When mixture is heated (do not boil), stir in 1 cup of three-cheese blend. Heat, stirring constantly, just until cheese is melted (do not boil).
  6. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with roasted cauliflower florets.
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Cauliflower Soup
Roasted Cream of Cauliflower Soup

For the recipe for the biscuits in the photos, click here.