Minestrone does not really need a recipe. Farmhouse cooks use whatever vegetables are available to create supper for the family. Cook the vegetables until soft, add a filler such as beans, rice and/or pasta and finish with a final seasoning of olive oil, cheese or herbs.
THE VEGETABLES: start with the soffrito (sauté) of finely chopped carrots, celery & onions and add shell beans, green beans, squash, potato, leafy greens, cabbage of some sort and herbs.
THE STARCH: Shell beans such as borlotti, pinto, kidney, fave etc. can be canned but be sure to drain and rinse before adding. Puree half of the beans in a food mill or just mash with a fork before adding. Any small pasta such as ditalini, orzo shape, stelle or broken spaghetti can be cooked into minestrone (about 15 min.). Rice, farro, wheat berries or non-traditional barley can also be simmered into the soup (30-40 min.). More liquid may be required for these starches to cook.
WATER OR BROTH: water is traditionally used but broth will enrich the flavor.
HOW LONG TO COOK: simmer for 45 min. to 1 1/2 hours- until all the flavors have come together. Keep tasting. Minestrone is better the second or third day. Store covered in the refrigerator. Reheat slowly.
TO ADD MORE FLAVOR: sauté some vegetables and herbs (garlic, sage, rosemary, bay leaves, marjoram, basil) in OO and add later in the cooking. Any leftover vegetable can be added- onions, broccoli stems, lettuce. Cured meat such as pancetta, coppa, or salami can enrich the flavor, or add finely chopped prosciutto skin or pork rind. Add a generous pinch of dried red pepper flakes. Be generous with herbs and add some in the beginning and stir more in during the last 10-20 minutes of cooking.
AT THE TABLE: drizzle with fresh olive oil, add a fresh chopped garden tomato, stir in pesto (made from basil, sage, rosemary or marjoram), add coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper, top with chopped fresh red onion, top with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
RIBOLLITA: Layer the minestrone in a tureen with Tuscan style bread, cover and allow to stand refrigerated overnight. Reheat and serve.
BAKED MINESTRONE: Line a casserole or baking dish with slices of coarse bread that have been toasted, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with OO. Top with leftover minestrone, cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino cheese, drizzle with OO and bake in a 350°F oven until hot and bubbling (about 40 min.). Cut into squares and serve hot with extra cheese.