Ainsley Harriott's Minestrone with Fregola and Herb Oil

This classic Northern Italian soup is simple comfort cooking at its best. You can adapt this recipe to use whatever vegetables you happen to have in your fridge, and can substitute the fregola for any kind of small pasta or couscous.

Introduction

Minestrone is a classic hearty Italian soup featuring on all the menus in Sardinia. The North-African influence on Sardinian cuisine is shown in their love of fregola, a pasta grain similar to couscous. It’s used in salads, soups and as a base for many pasta sauces and it adds a wonderful nutty texture to this soup. The secret to a good minestrone is to chop the vegetables all the same size so that they cook evenly.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 celery stick, chopped
100g fregola pasta or any small pasta
1 x 400g tin borlotti beans, drained
1 litre hot vegetable stock
1 rosemary sprig
100g green cabbage, shredded
3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
grated vegetarian Italian hard cheese, to serve
For the herb oil:
a handful basil leaves
a handful spinach
3 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a low–medium heat, then add the onion, carrot, fennel and celery. Sweat the vegetables for 12–15 minutes until softened. Don’t rush this stage, cooking the vegetables slowly allows the sugars in the veg to release and gives the soup flavour. Add the pasta and beans and stir. Pour in the hot stock and add the rosemary, cabbage and tomatoes. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook at a gentle simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, make the herb oil. Blitz all of the ingredients together in a small blender. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide the soup between four warmed serving bowls, sprinkle with grated cheese and drizzle with the herb oil.

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