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Fix my minestrone?

Deenso Oct 2, 2008 08:26 AM

I was in the mood for a lot of fresh vegetables in a single dish, to supplement the fried chicken we were having for dinner last night (and make at least a pretense of eating healthy). I prepared the "Late Summer Minestrone" from Mark Bittman's column in the NYTimes. I followed the directions to use water as a base and have to admit that the resulting soup was a bit lackluster. The vegetables were good, but the broth was just kind of blah.

I know soups and stews improve over a couple of days, so I'm hoping that it will taste better on Friday. I assume that some of the liquid, despite being covered in the fridge, is either going to evaporate or be absorbed into the vegetables, so am considering adding some or all of these items in when I reheat it:

- beef or chicken broth for more flavor
- shredded cabbage
- cooked Italian sausage meat or pancetta
- cooked ditalini (sp?) or elbow macaroni
- canned cannelini beans (drained, rinsed)

I would love your opinions on this 'cause I don't want this soup to go to waste, simply because it isn't great. I want to MAKE it great.



  1. m
    MrsCris Oct 2, 2008 08:40 AM

    Hey Deenso,

    My suggestion would be to add some chicken stock, some more tomato (from a can if you haven't any good, ripe tomatoes), and some more herbs. I see the recipe only calls for basil - I would add a healthy amount of chopped flat leaf parsley. I don't think macaroni will add any flavour - just texture. Sausage or pancetta would add flavour, but I think would mask the nice veggie flavour you get in good minestrone.
    You could saute another batch of mirepoix and add that to your soup too.
    Good luck!

    1 Reply
    1. re: MrsCris
      Deenso Oct 2, 2008 11:06 AM

      Thanks for the input. Parsley's a good idea, but I'm not sure I'd add more mirepoix. What with the carrots and the corn, the broth ended up with a slight sweetness, so I'd hesitate to put any more in. Perhaps some celery, instead? Good point about the pasta, though.

    2. Gio Oct 2, 2008 08:44 AM

      Did you add the Pesto has he suggests? When I make soup my liquid of choice is a good stock/broth. That makes all the difference and seems to enhance any vegetable or grain I add. If you want to augment your soup after the fact, I suggest adding some broth and cooked meat, though I wouldn't add pancetta. The ditlini won't add much flavor but the beans might.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Gio
        Deenso Oct 2, 2008 11:11 AM

        No, I didn't add the pesto - not a big fan. I'm curious - why do you advise against adding pancetta?

        1. re: Deenso
          Gio Oct 2, 2008 11:21 AM

          Good question..... I just don't like crispy bits in soup.

      2. j
        jackie de Oct 2, 2008 09:48 AM

        I just looked at the orginal recipe and see that it says salt and pepper. The first thing I'd do to try to fix a blah soup is to add salt and some fresh lemon juice. I think under-salted soup broths tend to taste very blah and am always surprised at what a difference the right amount of salt makes. The lemon juice will perk it up as well. I agree with the other posters re the meat or pasta. They would prob. detract from the lovely veggie flavors. Chicken broth or a combo of beef and chicken broth may help as well. Also the suggestion of using more fresh herbs will also add more flavor. Please let us know what you did and how it turned out.

        1 Reply
        1. re: jackie de
          Deenso Oct 2, 2008 11:15 AM

          Yes, I'm a salt freak, so added plenty of S&P during cooking. Ya gotta stop at some point, though - especially considering the soup's going to be reheated and the flavors are going to concentrate. I love the idea of adding some fresh lemon juice, along with the beef/chicken broth. Thanks!

        2. southernitalian Oct 2, 2008 11:23 AM

          We always add balsamic vinegar to minestrone. And definitely add ditalini! Not for flavor. Just.......because!

          2 Replies
          1. re: southernitalian
            kc girl Oct 2, 2008 11:51 AM

            Just curious. So, found this definition.
            ditalini : A small Italian tubular pasta that is cut so the diameter is roughly the same as the width. "Little thimbles" in Italian. Other Names: Salad-Roni.
            Attached picture.

            1. re: southernitalian
              Deenso Oct 2, 2008 12:16 PM

              See, we agree: my feeling is that there's always a place for pasta.

            2. Sam Fujisaka Oct 2, 2008 12:21 PM

              Bit of fish sauce, bit of sugar, touch of chili powder. Wee amounts. Lime juice as others have suggested.

              1. gatorfoodie Oct 2, 2008 12:50 PM

                A little chicken broth would be a good idea, and I like your idea of cannelini beans. That would give the soup a slightly more creamy texture and add some excellent mild flavors. Maybe some fresh thyme to complement.

                1. b
                  bex109 Oct 2, 2008 01:07 PM

                  I'd probably add a bit a Better than Boullion. Unless you happen to have some demi-glace on hand. That way, you could add a brothy flavor without watering down the soup

                  1. Gio Oct 2, 2008 05:47 PM

                    Finally, I would shave some Parmisano Reggiano over the bowl when you serve it.....
                    Buon appetito!

                    1. yayadave Oct 2, 2008 08:35 PM

                      You can patch this together for a passable bowl of soup this time, but next time, I'd say get a better recipe. I've just been reading about this in Kasper's book. That's why I mentioned this. Not as though I am a master soup maker.


                      1. m
                        Mellicita Oct 2, 2008 09:15 PM

                        I would take chicken broth (homemade preferable, but even a good boxed broth would work) and boil it down to reduce it. I use a large sautee pan (big surface area) to do this quickly. Then pour this into the soup and reheat the whole thing to simmer flavors together.

                        If you want to get fancy, consider adding some of these to the pan before adding the broth to reduce: pancetta or bacon, a mire poix, garlic, herbs, parm cheese rind, red pepper flakes. This will add extra flavor.

                        Also, just sauteing some bacon or sausage and putting it into the soup will infuse some needed flavor.

                        I also suggest a big serving of parm cheese and fresh ground black pepper to perk up the broth of any soup!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Mellicita
                          Deenso Oct 3, 2008 08:39 AM

                          Great advice, Mellicita! I've got both chicken and beef broth - will probably use chicken. I love the idea of reducing it to intensify the flavor. This is going to be tonight's dinner, along with a tossed salad, so sauteing and adding in some broken up Italian sausage to make it a real meal is in the plan. (In my husband's opinion, dinner ain't dinner without some kind of meat.) I switched a few links from freezer to fridge last night.

                          Will report back over the weekend.

                        2. j
                          jmax Oct 3, 2008 04:56 AM

                          Bittman's column in the NYTimes - I've been burned too many times by those recipes. I don't think I've had a single winner. I don't even read him anymore.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: jmax
                            Gio Oct 3, 2008 09:37 AM

                            Some of his recipes have not turned out well for me also, but every now and then there's a real winner. Like the Baked Apples with Pork Steaks he recently posted. I've made the Apple portion of it and they were wonderful.

                          2. BamiaWruz Oct 3, 2008 09:29 AM

                            I always use veg stock and to make it interesting I carmalize the tomato I'm using (strained) in the oil, until it smells really nice and carmalized. Then I add tamari (yes, believe it or not, but I put either tamari sauce or soy sauce in everything! It won't taste asian but gives it the saltiness and colour)
                            Also add veg. stock, mushroom stock cubes and if I have some french onion soup type of stock leftover I add it as the water base.

                            The veggies like celery and carrots will add to the taste of course, onion and garlic too. If you're putting those things in you sautee them first then carmalize the tomato sauce on top.
                            At the end I add parsley.

                            Oh and I also add pesto, about 1/2 a tbsp .. if I'm in a hurry.

                            1. rabaja Oct 3, 2008 09:51 AM

                              I've been making minestrone quite a bit lately and second the suggestion of using chicken stock instead of water, and I think a little added now would help. One thing I find is key in minestrone is throwing in a parmesan rind (I save mine in a ziplock in the fridge, they last forever), just toss it into the pot once you've added your liquid.
                              Last time I made up a batch, I almost forgot the rind, but added it in the later stages of cooking and the soup still took on more character and made it more flavorful.
                              A huge difference, IMHO.
                              Also, I love cabbage in soup and usually add it to minestrone, so try that as well as the beans and pasta. To me, that IS minestrone. I like Acini di pepe, which is also a small, tubular pasta, it just makes it more fun to eat!

                              1. r
                                RGC1982 Oct 3, 2008 10:16 AM

                                I guess you can add any of the items on your list and potentially improve the flavor, but I am a bit of a purist here. I would address what you consider the problem to be -- weak tasting broth. Thth can only be improved by adding beef or chicken broth at this point. I really do think that minestrone is best made with chicken or beef, with bones, and that the broth should then be strained and then used to simmer the veggies.

                                I do think that shredded cabbage is going to take it in a completely different direction, without imparting much more flavor to the soup, so I would avoid that. Cannelini beans, if drained and rinsed, won't add body to the sauce. You may want to take a tip from my old Italian grandma and add the can WITH the liquid. It will give it more body and flavor.

                                As for things like sausage, pancetta and ditalini, these things build out the soup, but won't affect the basic, underlying flavor.

                                1. d
                                  donali Oct 3, 2008 01:43 PM

                                  I like to blend a portion of the minestrone and then add it back to the soup to make athicker soup. Also meat any leftover meat and the Parmesan rin add great flavor

                                  1. paulj Oct 3, 2008 01:59 PM

                                    I wonder about the claim that a strong flavored chicken or beef broth is the key to a good minestone. Isn't this, in essence, a vegetable soup, as opposed to chicken or beef with vegetables?

                                    I think that often a stock, especially if canned, is a backdoor way of adding salt. I use a fair amount of soup base (e.g. Better than beef), but still view it as a flavored salt. The main thing that my home made stocks add is body, especially if I make them with gelatinous parts. In a vegetarian soup, beans or chickpeas and their cooking broth add a similar body.

                                    There isn't a hard and fast rule regarding salt in a soup, but my guess is that 1/2 tsp per cup of soup is about right - taking into account all sources (bacon, pancetta, cheese rind, canned ingredients, etc).

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: paulj
                                      rabaja Oct 3, 2008 06:16 PM

                                      1/2 t per cup of soup? That seems like WAY too much, but that's just me.
                                      Traditionally I think minestrone is a veg soup, made with water. I simply like using stock, although only homemade, without any salt added until the soup is in it's finishing stages.

                                      1. re: rabaja
                                        paulj Oct 3, 2008 06:34 PM

                                        I was guessing based on how I salt rice (scant tsp for 1cup of rice, 2c of water). Maybe it is high, but I just sampled that ratio in hot water, and it did remind me of soup broth.

                                        1. re: rabaja
                                          Gio Oct 4, 2008 05:35 AM

                                          MInestrone is a thick soup made with vegetables, macaroni, and herbs in either a meat or vegetable stock.

                                      2. goodhealthgourmet Oct 3, 2008 07:25 PM

                                        what are the chances you have fresh, whole [i.e. non-grated] parmesan in the house? simmer a nice-sized piece [3-4 inches long] of the parmesan rind in the soup. i promise it will elevate it to a new level.

                                        [and i probably don't need to tell you this, but remove the rind before serving.]

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                                          Deenso Oct 3, 2008 08:39 PM

                                          Thanks, everybody, for the input. I didn't get a chance to shop before I went home tonight, so I improvised with what we already had on hand. I combined about two cups of boxed chicken broth and a can of beef broth - both low-sodium - and let them boil down a bit while I cooked some elbow macaroni and chopped up and cooked a couple of links of sweet Italian sausage and warmed up the leftover soup. I stirred in the reduced broth, the pasta, the sausage and a drained can of cannelini beans, brought it all up to a boil and then simmered for a few minutes. The only parmesan in the house was a little packet of semi-freshly-grated stuff that had come with the pizza we'd had delivered a couple of days ago, so we had to settle for just a sprinkle over the finished product which, with a generous grind of black pepper, was actually *really* good. I was actually quite proud of myself for being able to save it.

                                          1. re: Deenso
                                            Gio Oct 4, 2008 05:36 AM

                                            So glad you were able to "save" your soup and enjoy your dinner. Thanks for reporting back!

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