Minestrone is thick, made with seasonal vegetables and, often, beans and/or pasta . For a hearty, winter minestrone, we also add meat: pancetta, pork sausage, or ground beef are favorites.
Stock Base: Start (again) with several quarts of chicken/duck stock, simmering initially in a large saucepan with a halved head of garlic to infuse a great garlic taste. After about 15 minutes, discard the garlic and keep the broth warm for what comes next.
Meat and Vegetables: In a large saucepan, heat olive oil with sage, rosemary and thyme for a few minutes (more infusion!). Then add the meat, two to three hot Italian sausages with the casing removed (diced pancetta or ground beef are also good alternatives), and cook until well browned. Add the vegetables, at least rough-chopped carrots, celery, and onions, with a minced garlic clove or two, and cook with the meat until the vegetables are softened.
Stock, sausage, tomatoes, vegetables, beans
At this point, we could also add potatoes (a cubed russet potato works great) or leafy greens such as Swiss Chard, cabbage, or escarole, but I find these a distraction today and leave them out.
To the meat and vegetable mixture, add a large (28 oz.) can of hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes, a similar amount of cannelloni beans and the stock Simmer for about 15 minutes while cooking the pasta.
Add the beans and tomatoes
Getting close: prepare the pasta, croutons in the back ready for broiling
Add the pasta to the soup, give it all a few quick stirs, and serve with -fresh-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and a fresh baguette.
All together and we're done
Another great touch is to float croutons on top of the soup. Take a few slices off the baguette, sprinkle them with some of the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and pop them under the broiler for a few minutes. Add on top of the soup. Wonderful!
Leftovers for another meal and to give away to friends