Sometimes there’s nothing like a bit of soup to take the bite out of the autumn air. Minestrone soup is one of my favourite winter-warmers, because you can squeeze in loads of yummy veggies and you get to eat pasta at the same time.

I love using tortellini in minestrone, as it makes a really hefty meal of it. You can follow the recipe I’ve used below, but instead of using small pasta shapes, you can just add the tortellini for the last 4 minutes of cooking. It’s lush.

Making use of the wonderful Little Italy shop being on my doorstep, this time I’ve used some Barilla’s Ditalini Rigati in my soup. Possibly the most perfect pasta for minestrone I’ve yet to taste, these tiny little tubes soak up the taste of the tomato-based soup fabulously.

Another great thing about this soup is it’s a great way to use up a surplus of vegetables. You can pretty much throw any Mediterranean-style vegetable in the pot and you’re on to a winner.

For the full recipe, have a look after the jump!

Below is a guideline as to how I like to make my minestrone soup. It’s a very adaptable soup, however, and you should feel free to take out any of the vegetables below and substitute with other vegetables that you think will work.

What you need for a big ol’ pot of minestrone-style soup fit for 4 people

1 tablespoon of olive oil

70 to 100g of pancetta or bacon lardons (or 4 or so rashers chopped into cubes)

1 white onion

2 cloves of garlic

2 medium carrots

1 courgette

1 red pepper

1 teaspoon of chili flakes

1 teaspoon of fennel seeds

1 x 400ml tin of chopped tomatoes

500ml of chicken stock (or vegetable stock)

Salt 

Pepper

200g of small pasta shapes

6 large leaves of cabbage (or kale) 

A handful of fresh basil leaves

Parmesan cheese, to serve

Start by heating the olive oil in a large deep pot over a medium to high heat. Once the oil is hot, fry the pancetta lardons for 5 minutes, until starting to brown.

Meanwhile, finely slice the onion and finely dice the garlic cloves. Peel the carrots and finely slice them too. Wash and chop the courgette and the red pepper, into small bite-sized chunks. Keep an eye on that bacon so it doesn’t burn!

When the bacon has had 5 minutes, remove it from the pot using a slotted spoon. Put it on some kitchen towel on a plate, to get rid of some of the excess oil.

Turn down the heat slightly on your pot, so that it is at a medium heat. Now you can tip in all of your chopped vegetables (the onion, garlic, carrots, courgette and red pepper) into the pot and fry them in the leftover pancetta fat. This will make everything taste yumbo scrumbo. You can add another drizzle of olive oil if you think the veg needs it but you should be all right.

You want to cook the vegetables, stirring almost constantly, for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, crush the fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar.

After 10 minutes, the vegetables will have started to soften a good bit, but the carrots will still be crunchy. That’s good. Now you can add the chili flakes and the ground fennel seeds and cook for a further 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Now you can add the pancetta back into the pot. Then, tip in the tin of chopped tomatoes and stir everything well. Make up your chicken stock (I prefer to use chicken stock but vegetable would be grand) and pour the hot stock into the pot. Stir everything well again. The soup will now look really watery. Don’t worry! It will thicken up perfectly once you’ve added the pasta and it’s had a bit of time to simmer down.

Bring the soup to a light boil and then simmer for 10 minutes. Check the soup for seasoning and now you can add salt and pepper to taste. You won’t need more than a generous pinch of each.

When the soup has had 10 minutes simmering, you can now add the pasta shapes and simmer for 9 to 10 minutes, or depending on the packet’s instructions.

My Barilla Ditalini Rigati – perfect for minestrone! 

Meanwhile, chop the cabbage leaves into long thin shreds. I like my cabbage to have a lot of crunch, so I would only add it for the last 5 minutes of cooking. But you might prefer to add it along with the pasta. It’s up to you!

Tear up the basil leaves and stir them into the soup for the last 2 minutes of cooking.

So now you’ll see that your soup has thickened up nicely and the vegetables are cooked through but remain deliciously crunchy.

Give the soup another taste to make sure you don’t need any more salt or pepper and then serve with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

KITCHEN TUNE

Here’s another winter-warmer, this time in the form of Bhangra-esque track Wood by Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, who records as a solo artist under the name of Rostam.