The Winter Minestrone Soup That Tastes Like a Cuddle in a Bowl

published Jan 7, 2022
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One of the best compliments I’ve ever received was my sister saying that my children, when they’ve moved out of the house, will want to come home for their mom’s cooking. My heart trilled. 

I hope when they come home wondering how they did on their college finals or sit at our kitchen table telling us about this special girl they met; when they’re with us for a meal after they’ve started paying their own taxes and getting the oil changed in their own cars, that I can serve them nostalgia on a plate and bring them back, like Proust’s madeleine, to the memory of soccer in the backyard interrupted by Mom’s calls for dinner and racing the puppy through golden-hour sun. 

If the food I’ve cooked for my children gives them comfort, now and then, I’ll feel like I at least got one thing right in these good old days. When I make something they like, I wonder if it’s a hint that the meal will be woven into the tapestry of their childhood. Ina Garten’s Winter Minestrone is one of these. 

This soup is famous in our family and as soon as there’s a whisper of a chill in the air, it goes on our weekly menu. The soup is chock-full of vegetables and sustenance. It’s thick and hearty and warms us to the marrow. It’s flavor is complex, yet familiar, pleasing adults and children both. I’ve recommended it to family and friends, and it’s quickly become one of their favorites, too. The minestrone tastes better as leftovers and freezes like a champ, coming to the rescue on days that don’t go as planned. If cuddles could be ladled into bowls, they’d taste like this. 

How to Make Ina Garten’s Winter Minestrone 

The soup is easy to cook, but a few key steps take it to the next level. You begin by lightly browning pancetta so that the mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery) and butternut squash gets softened in what amounts to umami oil. Garlic and thyme season the soup, simply and perfectly. Next, you add diced canned tomatoes and chicken broth and simmer for half an hour.

After the soup simmers and flavors begin to meld, the recipe calls for the addition of white beans and pasta. Then comes the spinach, cooked until it’s just wilted. White wine and pesto add brightness and depth and a can’t-put-your-finger-on-it flavor that makes each spoonful interesting. 

As if this all isn’t mouth-watering enough, Ina Garten includes instructions for a garlic bruschetta, which involves brushing olive oil over slices of baguette, toasting, and then rubbing a cut clove of garlic over the crusty top. It’s divine. 

Get the recipe: Ina Garten’s Winter Minestrone & Garlic Bruschetta

My Honest Review

We love love love this soup! And so does everyone we’ve shared it with. It’s silky, wholesome, and filling. I try to keep the ingredients for making it on hand at all times, at least through the winter. Canned beans and tomatoes, along with frozen butternut squash and greens make this possible. Through years of making it, I’ve picked up a few tips and tweaks.

5 Tips for Making Ina Garten’s Winter Minestrone 

1. Bacon instead of pancetta is perfectly fine. If you don’t have pancetta but you do have bacon, use the bacon instead. It’s a little more labor-intensive to use bacon, because you’ll have to chop it and then wash everything, whereas with the pancetta, all you do is open the package and dump it in. I also prefer the richness that pancetta lends to the soup (because it’s fattier). But bacon is a respectable substitute in a pinch, and also adds a touch of smokiness. 

2. Buy pre-cut butternut squash. Having to peel and cut butternut squash turns this recipe from easy to … not as easy. Buying pre-cut squash makes it a quick weeknight meal. I get mine from Trader Joe’s or Costco, when they have it. If you have a whole butternut that needs to be used, I recommend chopping it all at once and freezing what you don’t need, so the soup comes together more quickly next time. 

3. Use kale instead of spinach. I like the earthiness and structure that kale adds to the soup. Spinach is fine but disappears a bit more. I also like to keep frozen kale in the freezer and I feel like frozen kale, instead of spinach, also holds its taste and shape better. Either works, but kale is our preference. Of course, chard would work too. 

4. Cook pasta separately (or skip it). When I make this soup, I make a huge batch so we can have leftovers and plenty to freeze for later. But pasta in leftover soup gets waterlogged. So if I choose to serve the soup with pasta in it, I cook it separately and put it into the bowls before adding the soup. Often, I skip the pasta entirely, figuring that we’re getting some tasty carbs with the bruschetta anyway. No one misses it much. 

5. Don’t skip the garlic bruschetta, but toast some plain bread too for a milder flavor. The garlic bruschetta is so, so good. A cut clove that runs along warm toasted bread melts into the surface. The garlic is potent, though, and my kids often find it too “spicy,” so I make some plain bread just for them.