Minestra, or minestrone, is an Italian word for soup. Depending on what part of Italy you are, the local minestrone will be different, a green vegetable soup with fresh pesto in Genoa, a thick bean soup in Florence, a light soup with all manner of fish and shellfish in Naples.

The recipe most associated with ‘minestrone’ in Scotland is often a thick tomato, bean and pasta version, typical of the mountainous settlements in the south of Italy where many of the Scottish Italian immigrants came from. This recipe is from my mother-in-law, Nonna Carlo, a flavoursome tomato-based soup thickened with fresh beans and chunky pasta.


2-3 tablespoons extra virgin

olive oil

1 clove garlic

Piece of dried chilli

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

1-2 fresh bay leaves

3-4 sticks celery, peeled and diced

1 carrot, peeled and diced

½ tin tomatoes, liquidised

200g fresh borlotti or cannellini beans (or a tin borlotti beans)

1.5 litres boiling water plus more during cooking.

Piece of Parmigiano skin

2 handfuls small broken pasta

Black pepper and sea salt

Freshly grated Parmigiano

Fresh basil


Warm the extra virgin olive oil in a wide saucepan. Add the garlic clove and chilli and sauté to infuse the flavours.

Add the chopped onion, celery, carrots and bay leaves and turn in the oil.

Gently sauté with the lid on until the onions and celery are soft and translucent, and the carrot has started to soften.

Add the sieved tomatoes and cook everything for 15 minutes or so to start to make a sauce. Now add boiling hot water and the Parmigiano rind.

Add the beans and simmer on a gentle heat for the best part of an hour with the lid on until the beans are softened. If using tinned beans, add at the last 20 minutes. During cooking add more hot water if needed. Taste and season, the melted cheese will have created a delicious flavour.

The soup can be set aside now ready for when you want to eat. It tastes better the next day.

When ready to finish the soup, warm it through and add a couple of handfuls of dried broken pasta or some small, tubed pasta.

Simmer with the lid on for 15 -20 minutes until the pasta is cooked and the soup is thick and tasty, adding more water if needed, though it should be quite thick.

Check seasoning and serve with lots of grated parmesan, a drizzle of oil, plenty of black pepper and fresh basil leaves.