Inspired by a welcome — and pleasing — cup of the “stone soup” that I had at the season finale of our celebrated Oak Park Farmers’ Market on the last Saturday of October, I happily returned to my humble kitchen, laden with a wealth of our earth’s bounty and ready for a fun day of soup making. Alas, there being no more stones available, I relied instead on my purchases and came up with this delicious recipe for minestrone, an Italian vegetable soup that is as enjoyable to make as it is to eat.

In stark contrast to the current practice of cooking vegetables al dente, striving to preserve the individual qualities of each vegetable in a recipe, the aim of a good minestrone is to develop a collective flavor through long and slow cooking where the individual characteristics of each vegetable surrenders to the pot, allowing all of the vegetables to intermingle.

The fun part of making this soup is the technique employed in its preparation.

As I constantly remind my students as they multi-task in the classes I teach in the Culinary Arts Program at Kendall College, “Let the stove work while you’re working!” Here, we build the soup in steps. Each vegetable is added in sequence and has to cook for at least 2 or 3 minutes, so you can peel and cut one vegetable while the one you added previously is slowly releasing all of its intended goodness. It lessens the tedium.

Regional differences abound in Italian cookery and there are assuredly as many versions of minestrone as there are vegetables. Here is a version popular in Rome.

Frank Chlumsky, former executive chef of Philander’s restaurant in Oak Park, teaches in Chicago at Kendall College’s School of Culinary Arts. In his 37-year career, Frank has owned restaurants in Michigan City, Ind., and in Lake Geneva, Wis. He has also been executive chef at the Saddle & Cycle Club in Chicago. Frank lives in Forest Park, where he cooks for pleasure.

Minestrone soup

Yield: 6 to 8 servings
½ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup onion, sliced thin
1 cup carrots, medium dice
1 cup celery, medium dice or flaked
2 cups russet potato, medium dice
2 cups zucchini, washed and medium dice
3 cups cabbage, shredded
1 cup fresh green beans, diced
6 cups beef or chicken stock, canned is o.k.
1 cup canned plum tomatoes with juice
1½ cups* Cannellini or Great Northern beans, canned is ok
½ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil and butter
Add the sliced onion and cook over medium-low heat until slightly golden
Add carrots and cook slowly for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally
Repeat this operation in sequence with the celery, potatoes, zucchini and green beans, cooking each for 2 to 3 minutes
Add the shredded cabbage and cook until wilted, about 5 or 6 minutes
Add hot beef stock and canned tomatoes
Add a pinch of salt and pepper
Cover and cook very slowly for 2½ hours
Add the canned beans and cook for 30 minutes
Add the grated cheese, taste and correct seasoning and serve.

*If you prefer, you can use ¾ cup dried beans, cooked as you normally would. Minestrone will taste even better when it is reheated the next day. It is supposed to be thick, but if desired you can thin it out with more stock or water.

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Frank Chlumsky

Frank Chlumsky, former executive chef of Philander's restaurant in Oak Park, teaches in Chicago at Kendall College's School of Culinary Arts. In his 37-year career, Frank has owned restaurants in Michigan...