Learn the basic formula of this Italian classic, then vary the vegetables at will.
TIME About 1 hour
MAKES 4 to 6 servings
¼ cup olive oil, plus more for garnish
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium celery stalk, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large potatoes or turnips, peeled if you like and cut into small chunks
1 cup chopped tomatoes (canned are fine; don’t bother to drain)
1 medium zucchini, cut into small chunks
1 bunch sturdy leafy greens like kale or escarole, chopped
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese for garnish

1 Put the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onion, carrot, and celery; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften and begin to darken around the edges, 10 to 15 minutes.

2 Add the potatoes and sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are all brown in spots, 5 to 10 minutes. Add 6 cups water, stirring to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes, bring the mixture to a boil, and then lower the heat so the mixture bubbles steadily. Cook, stirring every now and then, until the tomatoes break down a bit, about 15 minutes.

3 Add the zucchini and greens and raise the heat if necessary to keep the mixture at a steady bubble. Cook until all the vegetables are very tender, another 10 to 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning and serve topped with the cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

  • Hearty Minestrone: For a meal in a bowl, cook up to 1 pound sausage or bacon with the aromatics in Step 1. Or add 1 cup any small pasta and an extra cup of water about 5 minutes after adding the greens in Step 3. Or simply stir in 1 cup cooked (or canned) chickpeas or cannellini beans a few minutes before serving.

  • This easily varied vegetable soup helps you start thinking of vegetables in groups: aromatics (garlic, onions, celery, and carrots); hard (or sturdy); tender (like zucchini or green beans); and greens. So if you look at the ingredient list that way, you can mix and match vegetables depending on what you have in the fridge or what looks best in the store.
  • To give the soup even more flavor, cut the rind from a piece of Parmesan cheese and add it along with the water. (Or cut a piece of rind into small chunks; it will soften enough to eat and is a real treat.)

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