Minestrone alla Genovese – The Classic Minestrone

The famous Genoese-style minestrone is a very dense and satisfying meal.  It utilizes both seasonal vegetables and the famous pesto alla Genovese, made of garlic, basil, pine nuts, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  But, as the Italian gastronome Massimo Alberini has said, as good as minestrone is, it is not a gastronomic specialty but rather an elemental dish composed of seasonal beans and vegetables and bound together by rice or macaroni.  It is the quintessential meal of cucina povera.

In the winter the cook will use dried beans, dried split peas, celery, cabbage, leeks, mushrooms, eggplant, winter squash, Swiss chard stalks, potatoes, and onions.  In the summer the beans are fresh, as are the tomatoes, and borage is added for a distinctive flavor.  Genoese cooks have perfected the minestrone by using only vegetables, the crust of a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for delicate flavoring, and slow cooking with the addition of the pesto at the very end.  The ratio is about three to one, vegetables to water, by volume.  In Liguria for pasta the cook might use maccheroncini rigati, penne piccole, pennette, tagliatelle fresca, cappellini, pastine, bricchetti (a little pot-shaped pasta), or scucusu (a couscous-like pasta), but I call for the easily found tubetti.  Scucusu is a pasta derived from the Arabic word couscous.  Giovanni Rebora in his Culture of the Fork: A Brief History of Food in Europe published in 2001 suggests that the migrations of couscous took place between the first half of the sixteenth century and the end of the eighteenth century and that minestrone, especially when pasta is added, is a descendant of couscous.  This minestrone needs to be stirred as it cooks to avoid sticking or burning.

Minestrone alla Genovese
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Stew
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 10
  • 1 cup dried fava beans, soaked in cold water to cover overnight, and drained
  • 1 cup dried cannellini, borlotti, white navy, haricot, Roman, or kidney beans (about ½ pound), soaked in cold water to cover overnight, and drained
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, scraped and cut into small dice
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 quarts water
  • 6 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese crusts
  • 1 pound (about 2) zucchini, peeled and diced
  • 1¼ pounds (about 2) boiling potatoes, such as Yukon gold, white, or red, peeled and diced
  • ½ pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 2 leeks, white and light green part only, halved lengthwise, washed well and chopped
  • ½ pound portobello mushrooms, stems and caps diced
  • ¾ pound pumpkin flesh, diced
  • ½ pound Savoy cabbage, cored and chopped
  • 1 pound borage, collard greens, Swiss chard, escarole, or spinach (with stems, only if desired), washed well and finely chopped
  • 1 small eggplant (about ¾ pound), peeled and diced
  • ½ pound tubetti or any short tubular macaroni
  • 6 heaping tablespoons Pesto alla Genovese (page 000)
  • 1½ ounces (about ¾ cup) freshly grated pecorino Sardo cheese (or any young semi-hard pecorino cheese)
  1. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil and blanch the fava beans for 10 minutes. Drain and peel. Set aside. (This step may not be necessary as the peel sometimes is loose enough to remove after its soaking in water).
  2. Put the fava, other beans, onion, celery, carrots, parsley, and ¼ cup olive oil in a large stock pot, cover with the water, stir, and bring to a boil. Salt to taste, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans are half-cooked, about 20 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how old the beans are and tasting for the doneness of the beans.
  3. Add the parmigiano crusts, zucchini, potatoes, tomatoes, leeks, mushrooms, squash, cabbage, borage, and eggplant. Pour in the remaining ¼ cup olive oil. Stir well, cover, and cook over low heat until the minestrone is thick enough for a spoon to stand straight up in it, 2 to 3 hours.
  4. Add the pasta and let cook until it is al dente, about 30 minutes. Stir the pesto into a ladleful of the broth and stir it back into the minestrone. Serve each serving with a drizzle of olive oil and pecorino Sardo cheese.


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