• Suzanne Yearley

A Meal in a Bowl: Kale Minestrone with Pistou

November 15, 2018

Suzanne Yearley

Food fads come and go, but soup is a constant for me. Once the cold weather hits, I have only one thing on my mind at mealtime: eating something warm, and a bowl of this hearty, comforting soup does the trick. It doesn’t hurt that this one is practically a meal in a bowl or that it is chock full of some of my favorite flavors. Pull it out of the fridge or freezer, heat it up, add some parmesan cheese, the pesto, and maybe a crust of bread and that is all that you need. Presto: dinner! (By the way, my soup is safely waiting in the freezer to serve to my Thanksgiving weekend guests or to my family for Sunday dinner. A stocked freezer is a godsend to a busy cook!)

The original recipe, published in Bon Appetit, was created to show that you could make a delicious soup without stock. Although I love the concept, the pancetta in the “broth” is a deal-breaker for me, and without it, I found the soup tasted thin. Also the potato/bean combination felt like a heavy dose of starch without enough green. So I went to work, making a few small changes to the original to up the ”green quotient” and put back some of the flavor lost with the pancetta. Green beans and zucchini are easy additions and just a few cups of vegetable or chicken stock did the trick to round out the flavor. Old habits die hard, I guess.

Creating this soup makes for a cozy project on a cold day. It will take you some time, but you will be richly rewarded for your efforts. Breaking the job into steps helps make it more manageable (see list below.) You can use store-bought ingredients to greatly reduce time invested and your result will certainly be good. But for a truly exceptional soup, make your own beans, stock and pesto from scratch.

  • Stock can be made ahead and frozen or use store-bought.

  • Beans can be soaked, cooked, and stored in their cooking liquid the day before or store-bought. (see Cooking White Beans for the pros and cons of each.)

  • Zucchini and green beans can be cut the day before or as the onions, leeks, carrots, etc. cook.

  • Kale can be washed and cut as the soup cooks. Drying it isn’t necessary. Just subtract ¼ cup from the amount of water added to the soup.

  • Pesto can be made up to 3 months ahead and stored in the freezer.

Secrets to Success:

  • If at all possible, cook your own beans. The texture of the soup will be far superior to canned. (See Cooking White Beans for how tos)

  • If you do use canned, use only Eden as they more closely resemble home-cooked.

  • Eden (like home-cooked) have no added salt, but other brands have a lot so be cognizant when seasoning the soup.

  • San Marzano canned tomatoes.

  • Make sure your parmesan cheese has parmigiano reggiano stamped on the rind. That is how you know it is authentic.

  • If you can find it, use Tuscan kale (otherwise known as black or dinosaur.) It has a nicer texture than curly kale in this soup.

  • If you do use curly kale, make the pieces small.

  • Definitely include the parmesan rind, a chef’s trick to add flavor to a vegetarian dish.

  • Also please, include the leek. This seemingly-ordinary ingredient packs a lot of flavor punch.


For the soup:

3 sprigs fresh oregano

3 sprigs fresh rosemary

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, thinly sliced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 celery stalks, diced

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes

1 Parmesan rind 

4 cups vegetable or chicken stock plus 2 cups water

4 cups cooked cannellini beans, about 9 ounces dried beans

Freshly ground black pepper

1 zucchini, washed well, halved lengthwise, and cut into half moons

1/4lb. green beans, washed, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengthes 

½ bunch Tuscan kale, stems removed, leaves torn into 1” pieces

grated parmesan cheese for serving

For the pistou:

2 garlic cloves

1 cup fresh basil leaves

½ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Kosher salt


Make the  soup:Tie oregano, rosemary, and bay leaves together with kitchen twine.

Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onion, leek, carrots, celery, garlic, and red pepper flakes; season with salt. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent and the carrots are tender, 10–12 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring to coat, until slightly darkened, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, crushing with your hands as you go, then the herb bundle, Parmesan rind, and stock and water. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Add the cannellini and continue to simmer for 5 minutes more. Add the zucchini, green beans and kale; cook until kale is tender, about 5 minutes. Discard the Parmesan rind and herb bundle.

Do Ahead: Soup can be made 2 days ahead (or 3 months if frozen). Let cool; transfer to airtight containers and chill.

Make the pistou: Pulse garlic and basil in a food processor until finely chopped. With the motor running,  add the oil in a stream. Stir in the Parmesan, and lemon zest; and season to taste with salt and freshly-ground black pepper. Serve the soup topped with pistou and with additional parmesan cheese, if desired.

Makes 8-10 servings.


freezes well




make ahead




good for leftovers

Family Meal






farmer's market




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