Recipe adapted (slightly) from Cook's Illustrated: Soups & Stews.
Minestrone is a traditional Italian soup that's packed with vegetables and thickened with a form of starch, such as beans or pasta. Although some might think of minestrone as a summer dish due the large use of fresh vegetables, the following recipe uses a few tricks to bring out the natural vegetable flavors without compensating its authenticity, so that it can be enjoyed year round. According to test cook Francisco J. Robert, many people think that "unless you've got access to a sun-drenched garden in the height of summer, you're stuck with lackluster supermarket offerings." To prove this statement wrong, [he] embarked on a minestrone marathon...[where his] challenge was to squeeze every last ounce of flavor out of supermarket vegetables to create a minestrone as satisfying as the countless styles of Italian originals. After giving it a shot, I'd say his efforts definitely paid off.
1/2 pound dried cannellini beans (navy or great Northern beans work too), rinsed and picked over
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 small onions, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 zucchini, trimmed, quartered lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 small head green cabbage, halved, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/8-1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 cups water
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 piece Parmesan cheese rind, about 5 inches by 2 inches
1 bay leaf
2 cups V8 juice
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup ditalini pasta
The day before you plan to make the soup, dissolve 1 1/2 tablespoons salt in 8 cups of cold water, and let the beans soak overnight (8 to 24 hours). This will help ensure a creamy texture. The following day, rinse and drain the beans, and reserve.
In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the pancetta and oil over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Add the celery, carrot, onions, and zucchini, and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned. Stir in the cabbage, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and red pepper flakes. Cook for an additional two minutes, and then transfer vegetables to a rimmed baking sheet to let cool.
In the empty Dutch oven, add the reserved beans, water, broth, Parmesan rind, and bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and cook until the beans are fully tender, 45 to 60 minutes.
At this point, get a small pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process, and reserve.
Once the beans are tender and the soup starts to thicken, add the cooled vegetables and V8 juice. Cook for another 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Remove the Parmesan rind and bay leaf (and discard), add the pasta, season with salt and pepper, and serve. Garnish with basil, Parmesan cheese, and/or olive oil.