Minestrone is one of those traditional, rich, nutrient-laden soups that’s been co-opted by the food industry and turned into a staple that you can find in a can at any store in America. But the problem is, none of them taste—or deliver—like the real thing. Chef’s recipe, on the other hand, is the real thing. And once you’ve tasted it, you’ll never look at canned soup the same way again.
So why is minestrone such a nutritional bonanza? Because it’s made with some of the healthiest food groups on the planet: vegetables and legumes. There’s no real traditional recipe for minestrone—you can skip the pasta for a gluten-free version, or skip the rice for a low-carb version. You can lose the bone or chicken broth and make a vegan version, or stir in a chopped, cooked pasture-raised chicken breast for a heartier meal.
You can doctor it up any way you like, but the core ingredients are at the top of everybody’s healthy foods list. Take carrots, for example, which continue to suffer from an undeserved reputation for being high in sugar (they’re actually not). What they are high in is carotenoids, antioxidant compounds associated with a wide range of health benefits. You’ve undoubtedly heard good things about beta-carotene, but that’s only one of about 500 members of the carotenoid family, and some research suggests that the other carotenoids may be even more important.
Celery suffers from Rodney Dangerfield syndrome–it don’t get no respect, but it should. It’s been recommended in traditional Chinese medicine for high blood pressure for centuries, and experimental evidence has confirmed its usefulness. Mark C. Houston, MD, director of The Hypertension Institute and Vascular Biology at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville, puts celery at the top of his list of foods for high blood pressure.
And don’t get me started on the health benefits of beans. They’re one of the best sources of dietary fiber, and most of us aren’t close to getting enough fiber from our diets. High-fiber diets are associated with all kinds of good stuff, including lower risks of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.
If you really want to go nuts with this soup—in terms of getting every single drop of nutritional benefit possible—use a quality bone broth such as Vital Choice. If you make your own, use only bones from 100% grass-fed beef and 100% pasture-raised chickens. The extra effort is worth it.
Chef did use potatoes for this recipe, which are perfectly fine as a starch source, and, combined with all other ingredients (almost all of which are low-glycemic) shouldn’t really do anything significant to your blood sugar. But you could drop the potatoes if you were trying for a more keto-friendly version of this soup.
Notes from The Clean Food Coach
I love this soup with a swirl of pesto stirred in just before serving. You can always buy a premade pesto to save time, but it’s easy enough to make your own. Just combine 2 Tbs. pine nuts, 1 cup basil leaves, and 2 Tbs. sundried tomatoes in their oil in a food processor, and pulse to break up. Add 1–3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil plus sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste, and continue to pulse to desired consistency. Enjoy a spoonful with each bowl of minestrone. You can use any extra to top baked chicken thighs or white fish right after cooking.
Featured ingredient: Leeks
Leeks are a member of the allium family, which includes health foods such as onions, shallots, and garlic. In fact, you can think of a leek as a sweet version of an onion. They contain a whole pharmacy of health-boosting components, including key sulfur compounds.
The active substances in leeks provide protection against some cancers. They also help block the reactions of hormones and chemical pathways within the body that promote cancer. Plus, regular consumption of allium vegetables is associated with a reduced risk of both prostate and colon cancer.
Leeks are also a good source of two of the most important carotenoids for eye health, lutein and zeaxanthin. One 54-calorie leek contains 1,691 mcg of these two superstar nutrients, which are currently the subject of extensive research for their ability to prevent macular degeneration, the No. 1 cause of blindness in adults. Leeks are also packed with fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin K, and more than 1,400 IUs of vitamin A.
This nourishing, warming soup is the very definition of “nutrient-dense”—it provides a ton of nutrition and takes up a lot of space in the tummy (making it very filling), but has an incredibly low amount of calories. It’s also simplicity itself to make, which sets it apart from many soup recipes.
Photography: Pornchai Mittongtare; Food Styling: Claire Stancer; Prop stylist: Robin Turk
- Heat oil in soup pot over medium heat. Add leeks, and cook until they start to soften, about 6 minutes. Add garlic, celery, and carrots, and cook 5 minutes more, turning occasionally. Add broth, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, salt, and pepper, and increase heat to high.
- When soup starts to simmer, reduce heat to low, and stir in the tomato paste. Squeeze lemon into the soup, drop it in, and add Parmesan rind, if using. Cover, and cook about 20 minutes, until vegetables are soft.
- Remove and discard the lemon half and cheese rind. Taste soup, and season with more salt, pepper, lemon juice, or tomato paste, if desired. Stir in corn and spinach, and remove from heat. Cool slightly before serving.