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Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large soup kettle. Add the onions, celery, and carrots and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add Italian seasoning and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about a minute longer. Add remaining ingredients except the Parmesan, cover, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low; continue to simmer, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft and pasta is tender, about 15 minutes longer. Adjust the seasonings and serve hot topped with the cheese if using.
Seasonal Vegetables (Pick 1):
Fall: about 8 ounces each bite-size cauliflower florets and broccoli rabe, trimmed and chopped coarse
Winter: about 8 ounces each shredded savoy cabbage and butternut squash, cut into medium dice
Spring: about 8 ounces each frozen green peas and coarsely chopped escarole
Summer: about 8 ounces each zucchini, cut into medium dice, and well-washed spinach, stemmed and coarsely chopped
Notes and Tips:
Except for the true dog days of summer, I eat soup nearly year-round, so it's nice to have a formula that works for every season. And if you think soup isn't for supper, give this one a try. It's stick-to-your-ribs substantial.
Don't limit yourself to the vegetables I've suggested. Some others to consider: green beans, leafy greens (both firm and tender), yellow squash, bell peppers. Just figure about 8 ounces each of 2 vegetables. Or create your own minestrone soup vegetable mix, using about 1 pound of vegetables in all.
Photograph by Quentin Bacon.