Having a pot on the stove at this time of year is almost mandatory for some homes, especially at this chilly time of year.

Luckily a pot of Italian nourishment can be as simple or as complicated as you like.

Making it suit you is smart as well. Vegetarian, or made with chicken stock or a ham & ham bone. With beans, pasta or rice and seasonal vegetables, this soup can be as individual as you.

The base of the soup with vegetables includes the holy trinity of onion, celery & carrot.

In Italy, minestrone varies by season and by region, in the northern region of Lombardy, minestrone might include pasta and pumpkin, further south, in Tuscany, cannellini beans and cabbage or kale. Genoa in the northwestern region of Liguria, it would be finished with pesto.

Tomatoes are usually included, or tomato paste. When using tomato paste, I find it helps to saute the paste with the onions, celery & carrot to cook out the rawness and add a toasty caramel depth to the flavour.

I use the bagged Italian soup mix blend of dried legumes & lentils. Soak in cold water for at least 2 hours before starting this soup. They will cook in the pot, so there is no need for cooking separately. If time is against you, a tin of well rinsed beans or lentils will work. Add these at the end of the cooking just to warm through so they keep their shape. Soup is such an easy way to enjoy vegetables, I will throw plenty of dark greens in, cavalo nero, parsley, green beans and broccoli, stems and all. I’ve even gone so green that a puree of spinach & peas was added to the soup, to turn it into a vibrant green minestrone. Set aside a couple of hours to put this soup together. A big batch, plenty for a few days, nourishing for weekday lunches, and even freeze a container or two for last minute comfort.

2 tablespoons of olive oil 2 small onions diced

4 ribs of celery, washed & diced

2 diced carrots, peel left on.

2 tablespoons of tomato paste

2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 litres of stock , chicken, ham, vegetable or water

1 tin 400 grams of crushed tomatoes

1 cup of dried legumes/dried beans, soaked for 2 hours

2 cups of shredded cabbage – try silverbeet or tuscan cabbage.

1 large diced potato

½ cup of pasta – small macaroni, crushed spaghetti or risone, or

short grain white rice

1 diced zucchini

A handful of trimmed diced green beans (or broccoli)

1 bunch of Italian parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

To serve, freshly ground black pepper, salt for seasoning. fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan, and your favourite crusty Italian bread.

HEAT oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add celery, onion and carrot. Saute till the onion is translucent. Add the tomato paste and stir continuously to toast the paste for 3-4 minutes.Add the stock or water and bring to a boil. Add your garlic, soaked beans, potato & shredded cabbage. Reduce heat to low.

Lastly add in the pasta or rice, zucchini, green beans, the chopped parsley & oregano. Simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender and the flavours have blended.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crusty bread, extra virgin olive oil & extra grated parmesan cheese on the side.