Let your vegetables have a party in a pot with this nutritious, hearty, all-seasons minestrone soup. It includes giant wholegrain couscous and cauliflower. Not traditional, but really very tasty.

All minestrones are not created equal. IMO.

I grew up occasionally enduring my school’s minestrone. This was possibly a Hobson’s choice. By the time I had torn myself away from my cozy beanbag in the library, stashing my chosen book in a secret location, all of the cardboard pizza or mystery meat selections would have run out.

Lunch in the 1970s was not for the faint-of-heart or picky of the palate.

As I recall, the school’s minestrone was bitter yet curiously tasteless: watery, violently red, with tired, suspiciously uniform vegetables floating in amongst bloated bits of pasta. In other words, fairly vile. If I didn’t already like vegetables this cafeteria horror show wouldn’t have converted me. If other schools’ cafeterias were as terrible as mine it’s a wonder anyone my age ever ate a vegetable.

Minestrone is a soup I have largely since avoided.  However, I recently bought a carton as an ’emergency soup’ and, strangely, the experience was similar to that of my youth. But with a 40-year time lag.

This mildly bemusing experience – has commercial minestrone always been this bad? – prompted me, the very next day – to cobble together my own, vegetable-heavy, all-seasons version.


A Hearty Budget Soup Minestrone is often lauded for its hearty, simple qualities – “big soup” is the literal translation. Conjuring up sepia-tinted images of stooped, sun-browned peasants pulling up fat onions and wild greens, most minestrone recipes keep to its thrifty, seasonal origins. Most are vegetarian, if not vegan.

What makes this an all-seasons affair is that I recommend using only what’s seasonal and fresh, making up the rest with frozen. I cheated a little today with my fresh courgette – please forgive – but this is primarily a soup that can be customised to your heart’s content. Raw and fresh, frozen, and even unsalted tinned (tomatoes, cannellini beans, green beans, or corn if you wish) – all are good.

Almost whatever your budget and accessibility to food shops, you can cobble together a creditable pan of minestrone soup.

Now I am not in any way, shape or form Italian, but it is my understanding – correct me if I’m wrong – that minestrone is one of the few recipes for which there is no defining recipe. Depending on season, region and budget Italian recipes can run from adding peppers and eggplant in the south, to slinging in bacon lardons and sage in the north. There may or may not be tomatoes.

I don’t suppose me adding cauliflower would offend terribly. Maftoul? Dunno about that. But trust me, if you have it these tasty, mini morsels add a wonderful, nutty chewiness. Just cook to packet directions with a few minutes shaved off.  But don’t go out specially for it because broken vermicelli, rice and even quinoa are the business.

Basically minestrone soup is an excuse to have a little vegetable party in a pot. Riff away. 🙂

Special Tip With nutty-tasting maftoul instead of trad tiny or broken pasta, I’ve given it a Middle Eastern tweak, too. Do use whatever grainy carb that you wish. My trick with any grain-enhanced soup is to, if at all feasible, cook the grains separately and add just at the end. I keep cooked grains separate even for leftovers: one container for soup, one for carbs. This way you can customise it a little, adding cooked rice, pasta, couscous, quinoa – whatever. I almost always have a mini stash of cooked and bagged grains in my freezer to choose from. I most often use these in soups, but also in veggie burgers, salads, casserole things and even baking (see my recent food to glow decadent chocolate quinoa brownies for proof)

Is there a more versatile soup than minestrone? What *wouldn’t* you add to a minestrone??

PS Sorry for the lack of images, especially “instructional” ones. I was making this for work and needed to get it there – quick! 🙂


  • Servings: about 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy

Let your vegetables have a party in a pot with this nutritious, hearty, all-season’s minestrone soup. Use a combinations of fresh, canned and frozen ingredients to span the seasons. For best eating chop the vegetables evenly so that they cook more evenly. And do keep the cooked maftoul (giant wholemeal couscous) or pasta separate until just before serving to keep these carbs from bloating up in the soup. xx

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 fat leek (white bit only) or medium onion, minced (can use frozen)
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced (leave for 10 minutes before adding to the pot if possible – this enhances the nutrition) or 4 tsp frozen minced garlic
  • 2 medium carrots, small dice
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 3/4 tsp dried basil/frozen basil  – optional
  • 1 400g tin/carton chopped tomatoes or 5 ripe mushed and chopped plum tomatoes and their juices (optional)
  • 1.5 litres hot light vegetable stock or boiling water
  • 300ml low-sodium V-8 juice or or more stock/water
  • 1/4 cauliflower head, evenly chopped (can use frozen)
  • 100g frozen spinach or kale (or fresh!)
  • 100g frozen green beans (I snap them into smaller pieces while frozen)
  • 1 400g tin lentils, drained or 250g home-cooked
  • 1 400 tin cannellini beans, drained or 250g home-cooked
  • Lemon juice, to brighten
  • pinch of dark sugar if the tomatoes are a little sour (I sometimes use ketchup!)
  • 50-75g maftoul or small pasta, cooked to packet directions, minus a couple of minutes (can cook with the soup though, once the stock is added)
  • Chopped fresh parsley, or basil to garnish
  • Nutritional yeast flakes (“nooch”) or finely grated hard Italian cheese of choice – optional
  • Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (a flavoured basil infused oil is lovely. I use one from Greybe)


In a large saucepan, heat the oil over a low flame. Add the leeks, or onions, and the garlic, cooking until softened – about five minutes. Add the carrots and celery, cooking for a further couple of minutes.

Add the dried herbs, tomatoes, – if using – stock, and V8 juice, if using. If you wish to add the maftoul/pasta at this point, go ahead. Bring to the boil then reduce to simmer for 15 minutes. Now add in the remaining vegetables and beans, bring back up to simmer and cook for a further five minutes before adding in the cooked grains (or just keep these hot and add to individual servings in case your kids just want pasta option). Taste and see if the soup needs a little lemon, salt and/or sugar.

Serve warm and garnished with chopped parsley or torn basil, nutritional yeast flakes or finely grated hard cheese, a good drizzle of your best olive oil and finally some black pepper.

Note: if you add the maftoul or other grain in with the stock you will get a thicker soup so perhaps add a little more stock.

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