Minestrone with Tomato Cilantro Pistou

Minestrone with Tomato Cilantro Pistou
by Chef Denise MarchessaultBritish Columbia from Scratch

I love Minestrone soup but ordering it in a restaurant is dicey. Often the broth is too weak or tomato-y for my taste and if pasta is added, it’s soggy and bloated beyond recognition. 

I prefer a robust broth made from tomatoes and roasted chicken stock. I’ve infused mine with Kielbasa sausage and a generous chunk of Parmesan rind. The rind has loads of flavour and the sausage imparts a smoky, garlicky punch that’s anything but timid.

Pasta is cooked separately and added to each bowl just before the hot soup is ladled over it.

I like lots of last-minute, fresh garnishes on my soup: chopped basil or raw spinach, shaved or grated Parmesan cheese and a generous dollop of “pistou,” a pesto-like sauce updated with piquant jalapeño peppers, shallots, lime and cilantro.

This soup packs a lot of flavour and gets even better over a day or two. It’s worth making a big batch.”


2 onions, chopped
4 slices bacon, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil, plus more as needed
½ small green cabbage, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
10 cups roasted chicken or beef stock, preferably homemade
1 – 1½ lb smoky Kielbasa sausage
4 ripe tomatoes or one can (14.5 ounces) plum tomatoes
1 ½ cups dry navy beans, soaked and precooked or one can (9 ounces)
1 bundle of fresh thyme and parsley stems, tied with kitchen string
2 bay leaves
1 Parmesan rind, optional but strongly recommended

1 small shallot, chopped
1 – 2 jalapeño peppers, sliced in half (no need to remove seeds)
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 large bunch cilantro, washed, stems removed
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
juice from 1 lemon or lime
salt to taste

1 ½ cups small pasta shells, cooked
½ cup Parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
1 bunch fresh spinach or basil, chopped
Freshly ground pepper, optional


In a large pot, sauté onions and bacon in oil until the onions are translucent and the bacon is cooked through. Add the cabbage and sauté it at medium-high heat until the cabbage takes on a bit of colour. (The browning of the cabbage adds to the flavor.) Add the garlic, carrots and celery and mix well. If your pan is dry, add additional oil to prevent the vegetables from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Alternatively, if there appears to be excess oil or rendered bacon fat in the pan, remove it with a spoon. Once the vegetables are sautéed lightly, add the stock, Kielbasa, tomatoes, cooked beans, herbs, bay leaves and Parmesan rind (if using).
Simmer the soup until the cabbage and the carrots are just tender, but not overcooked. Adjust the seasoning with additional salt, if required. Remove the herb bundle and bay leaves.

To make the pistou, in a food processor, purée the raw shallot, hot peppers, cherry tomatoes, lemon or lime juice and cilantro. Add the oil in a slow steady stream. The sauce should be quite piquant; add additional lime juice and salt to taste.

Just before serving the soup, remove the sausage and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Add a few pieces of sausage and a spoonful of freshly cooked pasta to heated soup bowls. Ladle the hot soup over the sausage and pasta, and to each serving, add a generous spoonful of pistou, shaved Parmesan and freshly chopped raw spinach or basil. Add freshly ground pepper, if desired.


To find out more about what Denise is up to, keep an eye out for her classes with us here, purchase her new cookbook British Columbia from Scratch, and what she’s cooking over on her Instagram.

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