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Minestrone

[min-uh-stroh-nee; It. mee-ne-straw-ne]

Minestrone (minestra (soup) + -one (augmentative suffix) is the name for a variety of thick Italian soups made with vegetables, often with the addition of pasta or rice. Common ingredients include beans, onions, celery, carrots, stock, and tomatoes.

There is no set recipe for minestrone, since it is usually made out of whatever vegetables are in season. It can be vegetarian, contain meat, or contain a meat-based broth (such as chicken stock). The word "minestrone" has become a synonym for "hodgepodge".

Minestrone is one of the cornerstones of Italian cuisine, and is probably more widely dispersed and eaten throughout Italy than pasta.

History

Minestrone originally was a very humble dish and was intended for everyday consumption, being filling and cheap, and would likely have been the main course of a meal. Minestrone is part of what is known in Italy as cucina povera (literally "poor kitchen") meaning poorer people's cuisine.

Due to its unique origins and the absence of a fixed recipe, minestrone is not particularly similar across Italy: it varies depending on traditional cooking times, ingredients, and season. Minestrone ranges from a thick and dense texture with very boiled-down vegetables, to a more brothy soup with large quantities of diced and lightly-cooked vegetables that may include meats.

Like many Italian dishes, minestrone was probably originally not a dish made for its own sake, though this point is argued. In other words, whereas one might set about killing a rabbit, with the intention of then eating cooked rabbit, one did not gather the ingredients of minestrone with the intention of making minestrone. The ingredients were pooled from ingredients of other dishes, often side dishes or "contorni" plus whatever was left over.

As eating habits and ingredients changed in Italy, so did minestrone. The Roman army is said to have marched on minestrone and pasta ceci (or a European kind of beans and pasta), the former making use of local and seasonal ingredients, the latter due to the longevity of dried goods..

The introduction of new ingredients from the Americas in the Middle Ages, including tomatoes and potatoes, also changed the soup to the point that tomatoes are now considered a staple ingredient (though the quantity used varies from northern to southern Italy).

There are two schools of thought on when the recipe for minestrone became more formalized. One argues that in the 1600s and 1700s minestrone emerged as a soup using exclusively fresh vegetables and was made for its own sake (meaning it no longer relied on left-overs), while the other school of thought argues that the dish had always been prepared exclusively with fresh vegetables for its own sake since pre-Roman times, but the name minestrone lost its meaning of being made with left-overs.

Etymology

There are three Italian words corresponding to the English word 'soup': zuppa, which is used in the sense of tomato soup, or fish soup; minestra, which is used in the sense of a more substantial soup such as a vegetable soup, and also for 'dry' soups, namely pasta dishes; and minestrone, which means a very substantial or large soup, though the meaning has now come to be associated with this particular dish.

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