What Makes Minestrone Different Than Vegetable Soup?

Unless you're a soup aficionado, then you've probably wondered what the difference is between minestrone soup and vegetable soup, since the two share many similarities.

Essentially, the Italian favorite, minestrone soup, falls under the broader category of vegetable soup. In other words, minestrone soups are vegetable soups but not all vegetable soups are minestrone soups. Minestrone soup is unique because it typically includes beans, pasta, or rice, as well as vegetables, and the ingredients are always left chunky (it's never blended), making it a heartier option. Vegetable soups are usually simpler and don't typically include beans or pasta, and you could have a blended vegetable soup. And vegetable soups don't tend to contain any meat. 

Occasionally, meat is included in a minestrone soup recipe, (usually beef or chicken). Other minestrone ingredients are usually celery, carrots, onions, and tomatoes. However, minestrone is a super versatile soup; it doesn't need to include any specific vegetables for it to be considered minestrone soup (although it does need to include a starch, such as beans or pasta). The name, minestrone, translates to "big soup," which reflects the idea of packing this soup with an array of tasty ingredients.

So, what is the heritage of this Italian soup?

The Italian origins of minestrone soup

Minestrone soup actually dates back all the way to the second century B.C., around the time that Rome conquered Italy. Economic growth of the time meant that new vegetables were becoming available to Italians, which eventually led to minestrone soup. Specifically, minestrone soup developed as a way to use up leftover ingredients from other meals. This is why there isn't one hard-and-fast recipe that is most authentic.

If we look to Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking," which is considered a go-to authentic Italian cookbook, her recipe includes a huge variety of vegetables. These include celery, carrots, green beans, cabbage, tomatoes, zucchini, and more, and she uses a meat broth as a base. As for the beans, it calls for white beans. Controversially, however, Hazan leaves out the pasta. 

For the versions that include pasta, the most common shapes for Italian minestrone soup include shells, elbow macaroni, and ditalini.

Ingredient ideas for making your own minestrone soup

If you're going for a reasonably authentic Italian minestrone soup, then it's probably best to stick to those most common pasta shapes, as well as white beans such as cannellini or Great Northern beans. However, when it comes to vegetables, you could adjust to your preferences — for example, if you're not a celery fan, swap it for zucchini. Additionally, maybe you want to swap out a russet potato for a sweet potato to give the recipe a more autumnal taste. Or perhaps leave out potatoes altogether. 

If you need ideas to get started, Tasting Table's recipe for a hearty minestrone soup — which is a vegetarian-friendly dish — calls for onions, carrots, celery, diced tomatoes, spinach, and one russet potato, as well as pasta shells and white beans. Or go for the convenient slow cooker minestrone soup. This recipe includes celery, carrots, spinach, onion, and tomato, plus two types of beans: dark kidney beans and navy. It's not specific on the type of pasta, though we'd suggest using a small shape, so it doesn't dominate the finished soup.