Recipe Review

Marcella Hazan’s Minestrone Soup Whisked Me Right Back to Italy

published Jan 5, 2022
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Headshot: Barbara Banks

Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is one of the most worn cookbooks on my shelf. It’s the one and only cookbook I carted with me to Italy when I moved there for graduate school and it’s still a treasure in my kitchen — what I turn to when I’m craving comfort, inspiration, and a friend beside me at the stove.

Though I’ve cooked my way through much of the book, I’d never made Marcella’s minestrone soup on page 84. Her Minestrone alla Romagnola, or Vegetable Soup, Romagna-style, hails from her native region of Emilia-Romagna. What immediately surprised me about the recipe is that there is not a single clove of garlic in sight, and it simmers for a whopping three hours.

As much as I trust Marcella, I couldn’t help but think the carrots, celery, zucchini, and potatoes would turn to complete mush after spending that long on the stove. My curiosity got the best of me, though, and I decided to try it for myself.

Get the recipe: Marcella Hazan’s Minestrone alla Romagnola

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Headshot: Barbara Banks

How to Make Marcella Hazan’s Minestrone alla Romagnola

You’ll start by soaking whole zucchini in cold water for 20 minutes, then dicing it. Sauté thinly sliced onion in olive oil and butter until softened. Add diced carrots, cook for a few minutes, and repeat this process with diced celery followed by diced potatoes.

While the vegetables cook, you’ll soak green beans in cold water, then dice them. Add them to the pot, cook for a few minutes, add the zucchini, cook a few more minutes, and finally add shredded cabbage. Cook for 5 more minutes, then pour in beef broth, water, and canned plum tomatoes. Add a Parmesan cheese rind, season with salt, and cover and simmer gently for 2 1/2 hours. Stir in a can of drained and rinsed cannellini beans and simmer for another 30 minutes. Remove and discard the Parmesan rind, stir in a bit of grated Parmesan cheese, and serve.

Credit: Joe Lingeman and Jesse Szewczyk

My Honest Review of Marcella Hazan’s Minestrone alla Romagnola

I was feeling dubious as I made this recipe. Marcella calls for an enormous quantity of vegetables, and they just barely fit in my Dutch oven even before I poured the broth in. Plus, their vibrant colors quickly became muted as the soup simmered slowly.

But friends, I wish I could share the scent that wafted from my kitchen over the course of those three hours of simmering. This humble minestrone was transformative. I had a Proustian moment when I opened the lid to give it a stir. It brought me straight back to the blustery day I arrived in Italy for my graduate program and my father and I stopped into a no-frills trattoria for lunch, weary from the stress of finding an apartment in a foreign country. The trattoria smelled like what you imagine the kitchen of an Italian nonna would: aromatic, savory, and full of so many good things you can’t quite place any one specific ingredient. This soup smelled exactly the same.

In the recipe headnotes, Marcella says it’s “a soup of dense, mellow flavor that recalls no vegetable in particular, but all of them at once.” I didn’t understand this until tasting it. The mountain of vegetables did indeed cook down into a silky marriage of flavors and textures. There’s also an incredible amount of umami richness in each spoonful, thanks to the Parmesan rind. This is minestrone soup in its truest, most Italian form.

Credit: Sheela Prakash

If You’re Making Marcella Hazan’s Minestrone alla Romagnola, a Few Tips

  1. Skip soaking the zucchini and green beans. Unless your zucchini and green beans are very gritty, there’s no need to soak them. Just give them a good rinse like you do the other vegetables.
  2. Don’t be tempted to add garlic. I am very much on Team Garlic and would usually tell you to add it with abandon. However, I actually think garlic would ruin this soup’s subtleties. Let it shine without it.
  3. You can use a can of diced tomatoes. Marcella calls for 2/3 cup canned plum tomatoes with their juice. It was a little awkward to measure out this exact quantity from a can of whole peeled tomatoes, so I opted to use a 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes instead.
  4. Swap out the beef broth if you prefer. I made the recipe with a 32-ounce carton of low-sodium beef broth and 2 cups of water. I typically don’t like the taste of store-bought beef broth but the soup simmered for so long that none of the off-flavors I dislike were left, but I do think you could absolutely make this with chicken or vegetable broth instead. I plan to try this next time.

Overall rating: 10/10

Have you tried Marcella Hazen’s Minestrone alla Romagnola? Let us know in the comments.