How to Make Italian Minestra – Beans and Greens Soup
Join me today as we make Minestra, an Italian soup commonly made with Beans and Greens. This traditional soup is easy to make, and it’s packed with nutrition and flavor!
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What Does Minestra Mean?
You might chuckle when you learn that the meaning of the Italian word Minestra simply means soup! But if you know a little Italian, you might be saying, “Hold on there, Mary. Zuppa means soup in Italian!” And you would be right.
The term Minestra is actually quite a bit older—linguistically speaking—than the word Zuppa. And while I say quite a bit older, I mean by a few centuries! The word Minestra is from the Latin word Ministrare which means “to administer.” It referred to a meal that was served—administered—out of one bowl or one pot by the head of the household. In essence, it was a one-pot meal. Centuries ago, while the wealthy of Italy might have had multiple course meals, the poor had a one-course meal, and it was often a Minestra.
Many Households, Many Minestras!
Today, the term Minestra can refer to many different types of soups. And often after the word Minestra, you might see another word tagged on to give you some idea of what type of soup it is. An example of this is Minestra Maritata—or Italian Wedding Soup—which is similar to the basic Minestra but with the addition of little meatballs.
Throughout Italy, every region (and actually quite often every household) has its own version of Minestra. But even though there are many versions, the soups commonly referred to as Minestra are made with some type of white bean and tender bitter green. Given that this is an Italian soup, the beans are often cannellini beans, and the greens are escarole.
Thanks to all the variations, Minestra is the type of soup that can be served hot, warm, or at room temperature. You can even serve it cold, making Minestra the perfect four-season soup!
Where Does Zuppa Fit In?
The term Zuppa, which also translates to mean soup, refers more to a broth than a hearty soup. To serve Zuppa, cooks usually place a piece of bread in a bowl and ladle the soup over it. Often, a stale piece of bread will do. This Zuppa or brothy soup never contains pasta or rice. And just like the linguistic history of Minestra, Zuppa has its own history. It is derived from the word suppa, which means “soaked bread.”
I have to share a little bit of food history—which you know I love! But be warned, this history might offend our modern-day sanitary sensibilities!
During the Middle Ages, servants would serve food to the nobility on pieces of bread, known in English as “trenches.” The bread absorbed the juices of the food placed on them. After the nobles finished their meals, the servants would use these trenches, which were often soaked with meat juices, as the bread for their zuppas!
So as you can see, both Minestra and Zuppa were “Cucina Povera.” Technically, Cucina Povera means “poor cooking,” but it is generally translated as “peasant cooking.”
If this simple Italian home cooking is something you are interested in learning more about, be sure to read one of my favorite cookbooks on the subject titled Italian Country Cooking: The Secrets of Cucina Povera by Loukie Werle.
The Minestra I Grew Up With
Having a mom of Northern Italian heritage, we ate a lot of Italian food. And specifically the foods of Northern Italy, including:
- Mostarda di Frutta
- And more!
Although the original Minestra most likely originated as a southern Italian dish, my mom, like most Italians, had a version of Minestra she liked best. Her version consisted of the simple combination of cannellini beans and escarole in a rich chicken broth. She flavored her soup with onions, garlic, and butter, topped off with a healthy grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
This Minestra recipe is truly simple and nutritious home cooking at its best. And it is very budget-friendly—Cucina Povera!
Easy Minestra Recipe Substitutions
In my recipe video where I show you how to make Minestra, I share some options for the type of beans and the kind of greens you can use. So don’t worry if you don’t have the specific ingredients on hand.
As I described earlier, Minestra has many variations from region to region in Italy as well as from household to household. Being of Northern Italian heritage, my mom used A LOT of butter in her cooking. (Julia Child would have loved her!) But in the version I share here, I go all-in with the Mediterranean Diet and use olive oil. But either fat will work.
And don’t worry if you don’t have any beans on hand! Even my mom occasionally substituted rice (a Northern Italian twist) when she forgot to soak her beans! So use what you have, and you will enjoy a very flavorful and comforting soup.
How to Make Beans VERY Digestible!
If you have been hesitant to eat beans because you have difficulty digesting them, I have two important tips to share with you. First, if you are starting with dry beans, soaking them for an extended period can significantly increase their digestibility.
In my How to Cook Dried Beans video, I show you how you can soak any type of bean and then how to cook it—the right way—for maximum digestibility.
Second, you can go one step further to increase the digestibility of your beans and maximize their nutrient absorption. In the following tutorial video, I show you how to soak and sprout beans. I also share a little tip as to why it really makes a difference as to what season you choose to try and sprout your beans.
Using Chicken Bone Broth in Your Recipe
As I show you in my recipe video, you can make your Beans and Greens Soup with a base of Chicken Bone Broth. Check out the videos below where I show you three different ways to make Chicken Bone Broth with nothing more than chicken scraps in the slow cooker, on the stovetop, or in the Instant Pot.
Using a Mineral Broth instead of Chicken Broth
If you would like to keep your Minestra vegetarian, watch my recipe video on how to create a tasty and nutritious vegetable mineral broth.
Make Home Baked Bread for Your Soup
When it comes to Minestra, you have to bake some delicious, fresh bread to serve alongside it! So why not try a simple Batter Bread that can be ready in 90 minutes from start to finish? This no-knead, yeast-risen bread is wonderful hot right out of the oven or toasted later for a delicious crunch.
More Italian Recipes
If you would like to learn how to make two traditional Northern Italian classics, check out the videos below where I share how to make an easy Polenta and a hearty show stopper Chickpea and Pork Rib Soup. Your family and friends will be clamoring for more!
Here are some more of the Italian recipes that I grew up with and that I am so happy to share with you:
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Minestra – Beans and Greens Soup
- Medium-sized saucepan or soup pot
- 2 tbsp Olive oil
- 1 medium Yellow or white onion, peeled and diced
- 4 cloves Fresh garlic, chopped fine
- 1 tsp Salt
- 3-4 cups Cooked cannellini beans or another white bean, divided
- 1 quart Chicken bone broth or chicken broth Vegetable broth or water may be substituted.
- 1 head Escarole or other tender green, washed and chopped
- Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated Optional
- Pour olive oil into the saucepan or soup pot on the stove and turn the heat to medium.
- Add onion to the heated olive oil, and sauté until the onion is softened and translucent. This process takes 2-3 minutes.
- Add chopped garlic, and sauté for an additional minute until fragrant.
- Add the salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes.
- Add half of the beans to the onion and garlic mixture. Mash the beans. (See video.)
- Add the chopped escarole to the onion, garlic, and mashed bean mixture, and stir well to incorporate the greens.
- Add the remaining beans and broth to the pot, stir well, and bring the mixture up to a boil. Next, turn the heat to medium, cover the pot, and allow the soup to simmer for 10 minutes.
- After 10 minutes, turn off the heat. Your soup is ready to serve, and you can ladle it into soup bowls. If you want, you can also grate cheese on top of the soup.
- This soup will stay fresh, refrigerated for 3-4 days. Or you can freeze it for up to 3 months.
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**Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, a medical professional, a dietician, or a nutritionist. All content found on the MarysNest.com website, including text, images, videos, eBooks or eGuides, social media, or other formats, were created solely for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or proper nutritional advice. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have watched in a video or read on this website. Use caution when following the recipe in this video. The creator and publisher of this video and website will not be held responsible for any adverse effects that may arise from the use of this recipe and method or any other recipe and method on this website or corresponding video channel.