There are countless ways to make minestrone, but all successful versions use fresh vegetables, good extra-virgin olive oil, and authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. This rendition gets extra heft from ham. Serve with crusty bread and pass extra-virgin olive oil at the table for drizzling on top.
1 large rib celery
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
3 canned plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped, plus 1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml.) of their juice
1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 potato, peeled and diced
3/4 lb. (375 g.) butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1/2 lb. (250 g.) green cabbage, finely shredded
3 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
6 Tbs. (1/2 oz./15 g.) finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup (7 oz./220 g.) drained cooked cannellini beans, well rinsed
1/4 lb. (125 g.) green beans, cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm.) lengths
2 small zucchini, trimmed and diced
1 1/2 cups (3 oz./90 g.) cauliflower florets
3/4 lb. (375 g.) ham steak, diced
Kosher salt for cooking pasta
1 cup (4 oz./125 g.) ditalini
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving
Cut the celery rib into thin slices and chop the leaves. In a large pot, combine the olive oil, celery and chopped leaves, tomatoes and their juice, onion, potato, butternut squash, carrot, cabbage, the 1 teaspoon rosemary, 3 tablespoons of the parsley, and 10 cups (2 1/2 qt./2.5 l.) water. Season with salt and pepper, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately reduce the heat to medium-low, cover partially, and simmer for 40 minutes.
Add the cannellini beans, green beans, zucchini, cauliflower, and ham, re-cover partially, and cook until the vegetables are tender but not mushy, about 8 minutes. Stir in the 3 tablespoons rosemary and the remaining 3 tablespoons parsley.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan, bring 2 qt. (2 l.) water to a boil. Check the package directions for the cooking time, then add 1 tablespoon kosher salt and the pasta to the boiling water, stir well, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is half-cooked. Drain and add to the soup.
Continue cooking the soup, uncovered, over medium heat until the pasta is just shy of al dente, about 2 minutes. (It will continue to cook in the heat of the soup.) Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper. Ladle into warmed shallow bowls and sprinkle with the cheese. Serve right away. Serves 8.