I love minestrone soup. It never knocks my socks off with outlandish flavor but it does consistently comfort my soul with its rich broth and boatload of vegetables. It’s the perfect modest winter side (or main or appetizer) for dozens of other features. Best of all, it’s extremely flexible so you can include what’s on sale or in your fridge. Unadapted from Italian Classics by Cook’s Illustrated. Great for a cold weekend. 

Prep Time: 30 minutes | Cook Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes | Yields: 6-12 servings (depending on whether it’s a side or main)


  • 2 small or 1 large leek, white and light green parts sliced thin crosswise (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped small (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 small onions, chopped small (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 medium stalks celery, chopped small (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 medium baking potato, peeled and cut into 1/2″ dice (about 1 1/4 cup)
  • 1 medium zuchinni, chopped medium (about 1 1/4 cup)
  • 3 cups stemmed spinach leaves, cut into thin strips
  • 1 (28 oz) can whole tomatoes packed in juice, drained and chopped
  • 8 cups of water
  • 1 parmesan cheese rind, about 5×2 inches, preferably from Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 (15 1/2 oz) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup pesto OR 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary mixed with 1 tsp minced garlic and 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

See variations for a host of vegetable substitutions.

* This little guy is pretty important for flavor. I recommend not skipping it.


Bring the vegetables, tomatoes, water, cheese rind and 1 tsp salt to a boil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender but still hold their shape, about 1 hour.

Remove and discard the cheese rind. (Soup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days. Reheat before proceeding.)

Add the beans and cook until just heated through, about 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the pesto OR rosemary mixture. Adjust the seasonings, adding pepper and more salt if necessary. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve immediately.

Variations & Notes

Notes from Cooks Illustrated

  • This recipe for minestrone contains seven kinds of vegetables, plus tomatoes and cannellini beans. The aromatics – leeks, carrots, onions and celery – are essential, as are the tomatoes. We like to add starchy potatoes, sweet zucchini, and leafy spinach, but this list is fairly subjective. What follows (below in variations) are some notes on other vegetables that were tested in this soup and well liked by tasters. Bell peppers and broccoli were judged too distinctive, while eggplant and white mushrooms added little flavor, so none of those vegetables is recommended.
  • When making substitutions, keep in mind that this minestrone recipe has 2 1/2 cups solid vegetables (potatoes and zucchini) and 3 cups leafy spinach. Follow similar proportions when using the vegetables below.
  • As for the beans, white kidney beans, called cannellini beans in Italy, are the classic choice. But other white beans may be used, as well as kidney, cranberry, and borlotti beans, all of which appear in various traditional recipes for minestrone.

Variations from Cooks Illustrated

  • Add pancetta or bacon: 2 ounces of minced pancetta (unsmoked Italian bacon) can be used in place of a cheese rind to boost flavor in the soup. Saute this in 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil until crisp, for 3-4 minutes, before adding vegetables, tomatoes and water as in directions.
    • You can use American bacon as well. However, you’ll want to tone down the smokiness. To do this, cook the bacon strips in simmering water for 1 minute. Drain the water, chop the bacon, then proceed with the recipe.
  • Add rice or pasta: For a heartier soup, follow the directions until the vegetables are tender. Add 1/2 cup arborio rice or small pasta shape, such as elbows, ditalini, or orzo. Continue cooking until the rice is tender but still a bit firm in the center of each grain, about 20 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente, 8 to 12 minutes, depending on the shape. Add the beans and proceed as directed.
  • Vegetable variations: See photo –